Global Data Firm: “We Help Utilities Surveil and Profile Their Customers, and Monetize Home Surveillance Data”
(EDIT:: Onzo has removed their self-incriminating video from YouTube)
In a cutesy marketing video, global data analytics company Onzo admits to helping utilities surveil and profile their customers — and sell direct surveillance access to their customers’ homes.
“We use this characterized profile to give the utility… the ability to monetize their customer data by providing a direct link to appropriate third-party organizations based on the customer’s identified character.”
In a 2015 interview, a high-level NARUC director signaled the intention and scope of the agenda:
“I think the data [harvested by ‘smart’ meters] is going to be worth a lot more than the commodity that’s being consumed to generate the data.”
—Miles Keogh, Director, Research and Grants, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, 1 January 2015
And as far back as 2011, California Public Utilities Commission was using the same “double-speak” language when they changed their rules to normalize meter spying and data-monetizing:
“I support today’s decision because it adopts reasonable privacy and security rules and expands consumer and third-party access to electricity usage and pricing information. I hope this decision stimulates market interest.”
—Timothy Alan Simon, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission, 11 July 2011
Here’s the full transcription from Onzo’s video:
We are Onzo. We help energy utilities globally to build better relationships with their customers, serve them more efficiently, and summon(?) them in a more effective way.
How do we do this? We take energy consumption data from smart meters and sensors. We analyze it using our patented algorithms. And build a highly-personalized profile for each and every utility customer.
We then tag this profile with the key behavioral, attitudinal and lifestyle characteristics that we identify. We even tag the appliances that we see being used in the home.
We then use this characterized profile to give the utility three things:
Customer engagement apps that educate the end-customer, build levels of trust, and ultimately, reduce customer churn. A detailed description of each end-customer, that helps the utility to provide more appropriate services and highly-targeted sales campaigns.
The ability to monetize their customer data, by providing a direct link to appropriate third-party organizations, based on the customer’s identified character. So, from a very thin stream of energy consumption data, Onzo delivers significant business value, for as little as the price of a cup of coffee.
The global smart grid market is expected to grow from USD 39.84 billion in 2016 and reach USD 83.81 billion in 2022, growing at an estimated CAGR of 13.20% during the forecast period.
The Asia-Pacific region is expected to dominate the smart grid market during the forecast period. The rising demand from the countries like China and India is expected to be the major driving factor for this region. On the other hand, the increasing government initiatives are expected to drive the growth of the smart grid market in the North America region.
Other Key findings of the report
- Emergence of advanced smart grid technologies is one of the primary driving factors for the growth of the global smart grid market.
- Strong emphasis on energy efficiency and energy conservation are also expected to create major growth opportunities for the smart grid market, during the forecast period.
- The lowered costs of networking technologies & devices and favorable government policies are also expected to drive the demand patterns in the smart grid market in the near future.
Josh Del Sol writes:
It would also be folly to dismiss the privacy implications of the collection of smart meter data. This phenomenon is one manifestation of the increasingly connected world that we live in, in which many ordinary devices now collect and process data that permits deeply intimate inferences about our personal lives. That data is then made available to third parties, including law enforcement agencies as well as the private sector. Smart meter data collected at 15 minute increments can tell a police officer about your habits, activities and rhythms of movements. It could permit an officer to deduce, for example, what religion you are, perhaps because your sleep patterns evolve around a daily prayer pattern or because your eating habits (i.e. appliance usage) suggests fasting during Ramadan. It could permit a commercial party to deduce your income level by the types of appliances you own and what condition they are in. It could permit an insurance provider to determine whether you own exercise equipment and use it frequently. The possibilities are endless.
Smart Meter data has been used far beyond the utilities; for catching marijuana growers (and sometimes mistaken high performance computing startups for grow ops), debt collection, and divorce cases. These are just the legal uses, we also know that smart meters are hacked and hackable, from Puerto Rico fraud cases, to GCHQ suggesting delaying or stopping the roll-out because of national security concerns. Academic research shows that religion, occupancy, sleep patterns, and health can all be derived from the data. There are of course also privacy preserving and enhancing technologies that could eradicate some of these concerns, but so far there there is not much financial incentive to use this research, though that does change with increased activism around the issue.
https://www.dallascriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/2007/11/austin-pd-lawyers-up-over-warr.html http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/smart-meter-data-shared-far-and-wide-20120922-26dvp.html https://krebsonsecurity.com/2012/04/fbi-smart-meter-hacks-likely-to-spread/ https://www.ft.com/content/ca2d7684-ed15-11e5-bb79-2303682345c8 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22608085
In The Netherlands, we went through 4 generations of smart meters (well, specifications). The first generations were quite easy to monitor remotely: one could simply hide a scanner in a housing block for a month or so and then see which houses would be empty.
Companies can offer metrics services so you can watch your own usage from the internet. They get that data from the national grid companies. In January 2015 it appeared some of those companies didn’t really check at all weather you were the resident of the home you requested metrics for. Then a few months back an energy company stole personal information (apparently no usage info though) about competitor’s clients though that same national grid administration.
Researchers at the Münster University of Applied Sciences have discovered that it is possible to use electricity usage data from smart electricity meters to determine which programmes consumers are watching on a standard TV set. The experiments were carried out as part of the state-funded DaPriM (data privacy management) projectGerman language link. By analysing electricity consumption patterns, it is, in principle, also possible to identify films played from a DVD or other source. There are even patents named smart meter TV detection zone which profiles television habits.
Light and dark passages in these films, large volumes of data, and a minimum of interference from other devices are the key to performing this analysis. The group’s experiments used data from a standard EasyMeter smart meter installed in a normal home. The meter sends electricity usage data to a server every two seconds. The customer profile on the supplier’s web server shows the household’s total consumption, from which it is possible to extract and analyse TV viewing data.
Until now, the general assumption has been that it would be possible to use typical electricity consumption data from the smart meter for different appliances to determine whether a customer had prepared his or her dinner in the microwave, on the hob or in the oven, but nothing more. That possibility had already spurred data protection officials in the USA, where smart meters are already widely used, into action – they demanded precise regulations on how electricity meters deal with and protect collected data.
Second by second data transfer makes it possible to carry out much finer analysis. In the opinion of the Münster-based research team, this calls for a tightening of data protection regulations. One solution might be to increase the polling interval or simply to transfer a statistical summary to the electricity generator or provider. This would make the high resolution consumption data required for close analysis unavailable. Either way, the consumer is reliant on the provider taking the appropriate measures.
The bottom line: the difference is that your rights to privacy about what you do in your own home — offline — has always and will always be protected under the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, and other laws in other nations. That’s the demarcation. People can always use services like Google, where the service provider will put it in the fine print that they have “no reasonable expectation of privacy.” That’s based on their outgoing communications. But for the spying to be functioning on an incoming basis — breaching the demarcation of the home — is something else altogether. It’s nothing less than colonization of the home and the individual.