Wednesday, March 29, 2017

How "smart" electricity meters are aiding the surveillance society

This video clip - including an actual advertisement from a data aggregator - is an excellent example of how our privacy is almost completely gone in the digital age.

My next question:  how do we reverse this situation?  Don't tell me it can't be done - it can, if we have the will as a society to do so.  The problem is, most people just don't seem to care.



Rob said...

Reverse the situation? The government is reading our mail & listening to our phone calls and no one cares.
The guy who brought this fact to the public was run out of the country amid shouts of "treason".

The day is coming when any bureaucrat who takes an interest in you can find out more about you than you know yourself.

No one cares....

Anonymous said...

If the government required every home in America to install a bell in their master bedroom, that anyone in the world could cause to ring at any time, people would be out in the street protesting.

Yet this is exactly the situation people have voluntarily put themselves in with their phone.

They'll sell the meters with a discount, mumble about 'load shedding', and people will sign up. Very few will read any EULA or other disclosure, knowing that they are written to obfuscate their true meaning anyway. Then some customers will find out that the meter lets the utility shut them off remotely so other customers continue to receive power- while the utility saves money by not building required capacity. Then someone will discover that the local cops are using real time data from the meter to pick the best time to kick the door in...

And it's already too late. The meters are everywhere. And anyone who points out the risks and downsides just sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory nut to the masses.


(and there's a bunch more rf noise going around too as the meters talk to their local aggregation point, which then phones home.)

bruce said...

I'm curious to know how a meter can discern a hair drier from a toaster, or a bathroom shower heat lamp. I would guess all the meter knows is an appliance of a small, medium, or large current draw is being used.
iow, the guy needs to up his meds a bit.

selkiemaine said...

In my area, you can have a conventional meter - but there is a $14 a month extra fee for it.

That said, I think that most people who care have just given up. They figure that they are almost alone, and there are so many important battles right now.

Lastly, I think the software folks can tell a hair dryer from a toaster etc. They put a LOT of effort into determining the exact power use profile for each appliance type, and how it is typically used.

They can tell a hair dryer from a toaster because the electric motor will spike on turn-on, while a toaster won't. They'll know that the toaster will run for exactly the amount of time each time, but the dryer won't. They can spot a blender because of the pulses. A stove or dryer is obvious.

Even when they are not able to tell exactly what the appliance is, they know when you're home, what time of day you cook, etc. And, they know if something changes. You bet they know if you, for example, put in a grow light (assuming it's legal in your state - or more important if it isn't).

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just wow. I work for a utility and even though the city and surrounding areas that we supply power for only amount to just over a hundred thousand people, I can tell you that we, for one, do not monitor power usage that closely. I'm not saying that some places might do that, but every power supplier doesn't have the manpower or interest in when you're home or when your hair dryer is turned on/off. I'm also not saying that we shouldn't be vigilant about these things, but the Internet Privacy violation that is Senator Jeff Flake's baby is MUCH more important to stop at this time!

Anonymous said...

One measure we can do is install our own private electric generators and stay off grid. That and get rid of the cellular phone, smart TVs and other gadgets. It isn't easy and sure as hell isn't convenient.

Anonymous said...

The Internet of Things falls into a few categories:
1) Devices that are to be used against you.
Example: The "Smart Meters", which form a 'mesh' network, and can be turned off remotely to 'save power' (already happened in CA), etc. Water meters have been made doing the same thing, "to save water". Expect them to first be 'voluntary' with a penalty for not using them, and then 'mandatory'. Usage patterns will then be flagged, for 'suspicious' behavior. Another example that has been periodically proposed is the GPS enabled car tracking device, to "only see how much you drive", and then tax you for road usage.

2) Devices that function like the extension of the supermarket loyalty card.
Example: The "Smart refrigerator" which keeps track of your diet, what's inside, and what your ordering from the supermarket. All helpfully passed onto 3rd party marketeers. You are the product being sold. Secondary effects could include health insurance companies, and then the Gov't, "all for your benefit".

3) Devices that monitor you for 3rd parties.
Examples: Smart TVs & Consoles. The smart device watches you, while you watch it. I've read that some refuse to work if they are unplugged from the internet (one example was LG TV). I've also read that the manufacturers have worked on image recognition, so they can keep track of who comes & goes during which program segments, to help the advertisers "appropriately tailor their ads".
To be more "helpful", modern electronics will attempt to connect via WiFi or Bluetooth to the mothership, even if you specifically don't want them to be connected. In some cases, you can only prevent the connection by putting your own firewall on the inbound/outbound connection & filtering the packets (Microsoft console & Win 10).

4) Devices that provide a "service" while monitoring you & exfiltrating your life to a 3rd party. Examples: Echo & On-star. For them to 'work', they have to be 'always on' and listening for your call. The FBI has already used "overheard data" in its' investigations, which is then sanitized via 'parallel construction'. In a less big-brother sense, Amazon or others could use your background sounds to match up and then market to you, "things you might be interested in".

Obviously, I'm considered a Luddite by these companies, and have none of these devices. But I also don't believe that my personal life is any business of an uninvited 3rd party, nor do I believe that when I purchase an appliance, it's the right of the manufacturer to maintain control of it & use it to spy on me.

JWM said...

Just try to refuse one of their monitor/meters. I was hassled for two years or more by Edison over this. They claimed they couldn't get in to our yard because DOG! We had no dog. LOCKED GATES! We have no locked gates. Then, as someone already mentioned, if you still insist, they charge a significant monthly fee to have a meter reader come out. The gas company didn't even ask. They just installed it, and told me I was welcome to pay out the ass if I wanted to have it removed.


Rygel said...

Devices, even ones that are not smart don't just draw power. As the power is drawn it is converted from A/C to D/C or goes through mechanical & electromagnetic ballasts. These create power feedback modulations(best way i can describe). It doesn't effect most other devices but the feedback from operating equipment can be signal matched.
A relative of mine uses sound recording equipment and has to isolate his power supply to the recording and mixing boards as it will pick up these modulations and amplify, corrupting the sound samples. He told me he couldn't use the new LED lights because the ballasts were creating horrific feedback patterns.
The one way I can think of masking these signatures would be to use power conditioners for power leveling and signal buffering between device and meter.

Boyd K said...

I agree with Bruce, I'm not lacking in the caring department I just have healthy skepticism. The data software companies marketing video is as convincing as any other marketing video I've seen in technology, which is to say not at all. So, I'm curious to know how a meter can discern a hair drier from any other electrical load.

Boyd K said...

Rygel, I have a close friend/relative who was a switching engineer in PGE's TIE switching center north of San Francisco. These guys can't keep the lights on. Seriously, they cannot efficiently connect loads to generators in any kind of predictable way, so without -evidence- that they are managing wave modulation detection with that level of detail for their millions of load points out of the little transistor radio sized RF connection on my meter is just... these kinds of claims require -credible- explanation. Not marketing videos and speculation. I am open to credible arguments.

Boyd K said...

Anonymous (sorry you didn't leave a name for credit) is so spot on with their buried lead:
"I'm also not saying that we shouldn't be vigilant about these things, but the Internet Privacy violation that is Senator Jeff Flake's baby is MUCH more important to stop at this time!"
So. Much. This^ !!
Credible sources and priorities please.

deborah harvey said...

most of us just don't know.
husband spoke with a person of european origin this week about what happened in serbia. never heard a word about any of his revelations--common knowledge to people caught in the situation-- and that is why gov't. got away with it all.
by the time we heard about hillary's big lie about being under fire, the time had passed. and not everyone heard about it even then.
control the media, control the way 'history' is written and you control everything.
that's why i read your web log and a few others ['gates of vienna', for example].
thanks for writing it!

Will said...

You people missed the primary reason for the switch to electronic metering of utilities at homes:

It was the biggest rate increase they have ever gotten, and they didn't have to get PUC authorization for it. EVERY meter reads higher than the mechanical meter it replaced. By a significant amount.

Add in the savings from getting rid of most of their meter readers, and they get a twofer.

Unknown said...

smart meters also have an "interesting" tendency to measure too high .. see:

JK Brown said...

The way to mask yourself is simple. Get a large bank of batteries or other storage system. One that will handle the largest load you ever generate. Then use software to ensure they always draw that peak load from the utility regardless of the usage on the home side. You'll need dummy loads that can be switched in and out as needed. They you can charge your batteries off the grid, but you usage will be masked by you always drawing max power from the grid.

If you put in a solar system, that could hide the real intent, reduce your peak load on the grid, etc. But you can't sell excess generation to the grid as that will provide a variable frequency for them to analyze.

They do this with the DoD comms networks, everything on there is encrypted regardless, and they keep the load at a high state so that an "increase in traffic" or an increase in encrypted traffic can't be discerned.

Or you can just accept that all that has changed is the ability to record, store and process lots of data. Don't want a "smart meter" on you house, well, they can put it at the transformer.

JK Brown said...


Just watched this youtube where the UK electrician touches on the fact that the tiny switch-mode power supplies in LED bulbs have horrible power factors. That puts a lot of noise in the line. It is mostly a matter for the power suppliers, but as your friend found, also with those needing clean power for sensitive equipment.

The video is specifically about the problems switching from tungsten to LED lamps on carnival floats.