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Privacy

NZ Privacy commission update

Earlier this week I responded to an email from the New Zealand Privacy Commission by asking two questions.

1) You say power companies have good business reasons for installing smart meters. Can you explain what you believe those reasons are?

2) You say power firms have legitimate uses for the more detailed information those meters provide. What uses are you referring to?

Below is their response.

In response to your questions, we believe that power companies are using smart meters in order to:

  • eliminate estimated reads
  • avoid having to visit properties regularly to check the meter.
  • obtain better information on peak use and general power consumption behaviour – this helps them plan better for distributing power across the grid.
  • allow for dynamic pricing.
  • provide customers with more detailed information about their power use.

We also think that it is possible for them to do this in a privacy aware manner. Our counterparts in Ontario, Canada have worked with the power companies there to develop a privacy aware smart grid.

You may be interested in reading into some of this, so I’m including a link here.

It’s important to note that even though power companies can collect more granular information about power usage, it doesn’t follow they can use that information for any purpose they choose.

The Privacy Act still applies, and they should only be using the information for the purposes for which it was collected. Power companies should outline these purposes in their privacy policy.

Again, as I said in my previous email, if you have specific concerns about how your power company will use your personal information you should contact their privacy officer directly.

ENDS

My comment:

I still maintain that utility providers need only six or so numbers to bill us correctly and nothing else.

In Canada, its privacy commission Elizabeth Denham says: “B.C. Hydro [a Canadian power retailer] is required by law to tell their customers the purpose for collecting personal information for the smart meters project, what legal authority they have to do so and to provide contact information for a B.C. Hydro employee who can answer any questions that arise regarding collection.

“Hydro is not currently meeting this requirement, and we’ve made some recommendations to help them improve their customer notification.”
In her report released today (December 19, 2011), the privacy commissioner recommends B.C. Hydro address the problem by providing customers with better information online and in print.

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