Value your privacy? You may want to refuse a smart meter…

Editor’s note:  The article below is a guest contribution to sent in by Andrew from Nelson.  If you would like to contribute an article or share a personal experience related to a smart meter. you can contact us via this link


Information risk

There’s been a lot of concern about these proposed ‘smart meters’ and the microwave radiation they produce. It’s not been proven dangerous but not proven entirely safe either.

[Ed note:  There is published research on adverse health effects reported following smart meter installations; please see this link for more information: ]

The only certain thing about it is that the risk – whatever it may be – is to customers, for the benefit of power companies, who are promoting the things.

There is another undeniable risk. These meters collect and send away a disturbing amount of information about every household’s habits. A normal meter adds up the total you use and the reader comes once every two months. There’s not much you can find out about a customer from that, except the intended thing, namely what their bill should be.

But these smart meters measure how much your family uses every half hour of every day, and hand it to your power company, via the network company. This is called ‘time of use metering’. And it’s completely new for household users. A few years ago these meters measured the power you use each half-hour down to the nearest 1/000th of a unit. To put this in perspective, if you get up at night, turn on one lightbulb and are not back in bed within 36 seconds, it’s got you logged. Electronics will only have got more powerful since then.

Whether your particular meter has a radio modem or the meter reader comes at the end of the month with a ‘smart’ reader and hooks it onto your ‘smart’ meter so it can suck out the whole month’s half-hourly readings, the data collected is much the same.

When the network company came to promote ‘smart’ meters they were asked “Who owns the information you intend to collect, what will it be used for and who might it be handed on to?” The answer was “That’s a good question. You’d better consult your power company’s terms and conditions.” So here’s a selection from various power companies’ terms and conditions. Look it up if you don’t believe it!

“We may, at any time, replace the meter on your premises with a smart meter or install a remote meter reading device on your existing meter.

“You agree that we own all metering data and any other data collected by the meter.

“We will use any personal information collected …for the purposes of…
* conducting data analysis to identify particular products and services that may be of interest to you;
* to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law by any public sector agency, including the prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and punishment of offences

Welcome to 1984! Of course nobody’s going to look through your time-of-use power bill to see what they can sell you. But they will use specialist companies who program computers to do exactly that – to the whole customer base. It’s called ‘data mining’ and it’s routine.

Time of use data can already suggest when you’re on holiday, whether there are school kids in the house, when you get up and go to bed, how much TV you watch, whether you cook at home or buy fast food, and what you do at the weekend. Think about it a bit and you will see how. And it’s only going to get worse as our houses fill up with ‘smart’ appliances that talk to each other.

What about the security of your data? It’s probably protected by ‘128 bit encryption’ which nobody hacks by brute force, and your power company will hold it in accordance with the Privacy Act. Sounds reassuring. Except accidents with huge amounts of people’s data are all too often in the news. And there’s always a criminal element lurking. It could be high-tech hacking but it doesn’t have to be. Bribery and blackmail work just as well in ‘big data’ as anywhere. Your time-of-use data could slip through the internet unseen, and it would be a godsend to burglars.

It’s worth stating the blindingly obvious: the purpose of having an electricity meter is to calculate our bill, not to target advertising at ourselves. And the last thing we need is to have our metering data taken from us, analysed, and turned back on us insidiously to make us dissatisfied with what we have so that we buy more stuff.

In Silicon Valley they say ‘SMART’ stands for ‘surveillance marketed as revolutionary technology’, and they have a point. Once again, the only certain thing is that the risk – whatever it may be – is to customers, for the benefit of power companies, who are promoting the scheme.

In the end, what is in it for us customers to have a ‘smart meter’ in our house? We’ve used electricity and paid our bills according to normal meters since forever, and it works. If you have a huge solar panel that generates for the grid, you may need a high-tech meter. But for the rest of us – and that’s nearly everybody – the best way to know our time of use data is not being abused is not to create it in the first place.

Just tell your power company that you do not consent to having any kind of ‘time-of-use’ meter or ‘smart’ meter. If necessary, change to a company that doesn’t insist on one. They’ll get the message pretty quickly.


Value your privacy?  You may want to refuse a smart meter…

Smart meters are NOT compulsory in NZ and many NZers are refusing smart meters- and not just because of the privacy risks.  You can find a good summary of some of the other reasons that people are refusing smart meters at this link.

Please note that if you would like to receive email updates on the smart meter issue for NZ, you can sign up to the free email list at