Privacy versus power: smart grids are the new battlefield

I think we can all agree that protecting our own personal privacy is a generally good idea. There are an enormous number of ways that our privacy can be encroached in a given day. Some of them are “for our own good”, or “just the cost of doing business” in the modern age. Some of the ways our privacy may be violated are extremely esoteric and not very likely (hard drive activity LEDs, for example! PDF: Information Leakage from Optical Emanations). Generally speaking, what I do in my own home is largely my own business, and not the business of anyone else. But the technology behind so-called “smart grids” for delivering electricity to appliances in a way that maximizes efficiency may leak a lot of personal information about you and your domestic habits.

ReadWriteWeb ponders the question are smart grids undermining user privacy? The story observes that “the energy fluctuations of home appliances are so unique that a smart grid can tell the make and model of a user’s refrigerator.” Maybe that’s not a big deal to you, but it’s not too hard to extrapolate from there to a variety of more Orwellian possibilities.

The issue at hand currently is that there are no clear guidelines on how to collect user data in a smart grid. Left to their own devices, history suggests that companies involved with smart grid technology will not necessarily keep the privacy of consumers in mind as they pursue their business objectives. But maybe this is all much ado about nothing, and end-user privacy will in some way be sanctified and protected as more and more people become aware of the issue. What do you think?