Privacy Concerns With Smart Meters. I have spent many hours of research to give you the best answer in this article.
You may remember a man coming to your house every month to take utility readings.
His sole job was to check the meter installed at your house, write down the updated numbers and then do it for all houses in the neighborhood.
Your utility company would then use his recorded data to calculate what you owe and send a bill accordingly.
However, with the boom in technology and ready availability of network-connected meters, the companies just decided to replace human labor with a smart meter that was equipped with the ability to update your meter readings to the company over the internet.
These special meters came to be known as smart meters. You may have noticed those nifty gadgets with digital displays that are connected to the mains. Those are them.
They provide an essential service since they are essentially the bridge between your home and the utility company.
These smart meters are assets for the companies because it allows them to have more robust and immediate control over people’s house connections and don’t cost the company any extra money.
However, not everything is as rosy as they seem to be. In this article, we will take a look at these smart meters, how they connect to the utility companies and what threats they possess. Read on.
Why are smart meters important?
We live in a world that is getting more and more interconnected with every passing second. Back in the early 1900s when industrialization hit America, the only reason we outperformed every other country in the world was because of our investment in infrastructure.
We quickly understood that there was going to be a new world order and wanted us to lead the way. It seems we are at a similar juncture again.
The world is racing towards digitization and therefore it only makes sense to invest in infrastructure that aids in that objective and increases our productivity.
Smart meters are an innovative and essential tech because it not only saves countless man-hours trying to digitize updated readings and then calculating the bill but also saves money for the company in increased ease of productivity.
Smart meters are special meters that can connect to the internet through a Wi-Fi connection. Most houses now have Wi-Fi and therefore, smart meters are growing to be quite common.
The meters are programmed to send in a bunch of data to the company servers including the readings, data about usage trends and diagnostic data.
These meters can also notify the company if there was a voltage surge in the mainline and needed the company’s attention.
How smart meters connect.
Smart meters typically use an HTTPS secure server connection over the internet to store data over at the company servers. The data is sent in a preprogrammed format which is then tabulated and stored.
These ‘data dumps’ are usually scheduled for a specific time of the day (mostly 00:00 AM) and do not need any human intervention in their working. However, in some models, the data dump happens weekly.
Regardless, these smart meters are also often equipped with a small memory stick so that they can store the day’s reading on it if there was a problem connecting to the servers. In that case, the data gets updated cumulatively the next day.
Some of the newer models also come with the facility for you to send a message to the company. The meter has an in-built mic mounted to the rear and can record your voice message.
This can be a boon for the times there is a load shedding in your neighborhood or your power gets cut without any apparent reason.
This voice messaging system allows the company to be informed of the problem immediately so that they can start working on a fix at the earliest.
However, these meters have several negative aspects to it which may be concerning for you, especially if you are a private person. In the next section, we take a look at some of the common concerns.
The negative effects of smart meters
Smart meters can be of huge benefit in times of need but the negative impacts of it are equally dire. It is an electronic device and therefore emits EMF radiation.
This is especially concerning since this is needless radiation that we are getting exposed to and if we don’t keep our radiation exposure limits in check, it can get compounded and affect our health inversely. That apart, there are privacy concerns.
These little gadgets are equipped with hardware that can connect to the internet.
That means, it can be actively used to spy on the homeowners without their knowledge if the people in control of it chose to turn on the mic and transmit the recordings.
Also, since they are electrical devices with a network connection, they are susceptible to hacking attempts.
If they were to be hacked, the homeowners, unfortunately, would have no idea of said hacking and it can be used for any number of malicious purposes. Below we take a detailed look at each of these concerns and address how we can best mitigate the problems it posed.
EMF radiation from a smart meter.
As is with any electronic device, smart meters emit EMF radiation.
There are two types of radiation that the meters emit – electromagnetic radiation that is produced as a byproduct of passing a current through the various electrical components inside and RF radiation that is intentionally produced to connect to your home Wi-Fi.
As you can imagine, it generates a lot of EMF radiation that pollutes your immediate environment and can affect your health if compounded over time.
In this website, we’ve discussed extensively the effects that EMF radiation can have on your health. It can range from short term effects like headaches and migraines to more long term conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular complications.
There are several ways you can safeguard yourself from this deadly radiation. Depending on the state you live in, you might have a choice to opt-out of smart meters and replace them with the good old analog meters.
This, in my view, is the best option since they don’t have any EMF signatures and has zero negative effects on your health.
If that is not an option or you live in a state that doesn’t allow you to opt-out, you can always buy anti-radiation smart meter covers.
These anti-radiation covers are essentially Faraday cages that contain the radiation within itself and do not let it leak out into your living environment. You can also consider painting the wall that the smart meter is on with anti-radiation paint.
The paint dampens the radiation so that its reach is drastically reduced thus minimizing potential health risks. If you are interested, there are detailed articles on Faraday cages, anti-radiation smart meter covers and anti-radiation paint ready for your reading enjoyment.
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Breach of privacy with smart meters.
These smart meters are sophisticated little gadgets that pack in a lot of techs. One of the main attractions is the ability for the user to send voice messages to the utility company.
It is done through a built-in mic that comes with the tech bundle. That mic can also be used to program the electronics to operate on voice command. Therefore it looks like a very tempting and necessary option. However, the privacy concerns are massive with this when you think about it.
You have to remember that these meters are designed to operate over the internet. They achieve that by gaining access to your wireless network. Now, a gadget that complicated can have a lot of tech inside not all of which is disclosed to the public.
There have been reports that smart meters have been snooping around in your home networks trying to determine which sites you access and how much time you spend on each of them. This is a real concern since it is an invasion of privacy and these gadgets are actively trying to record each of our movements and patterns.
The second worrying factor is the built-in mic. They are there for customer complaints and such but there is nothing stopping the utility companies to turn it on remotely if they are interested in spying on you. This is again a blatant invasion of privacy, one we should all be concerned about and work to address in a healthy, agreeable manner.
The risk of hacking your smart meter.
These devices are stuffed with cutting edge tech but have very low-security firewalls in place.
The companies justify it by saying that since it would be physically present inside your house at all times, it does not need robust security enforcements, thus allowing them to cut corners and pocket the profit.
This makes smart meters the ideal device to hack for hackers since they have to do very little to gain access.
Once they have access to your smart meters, they can turn on the mic remotely to listen to your conversations. This can help them in social engineering your credit card info, bank accounts, etc.
They can also use your smart meter to gain access to your wireless network and then attack your computers and other smart devices to gain confidential information.
Else, they can disconnect your power and hold it ransom while asking for money. Hackers are only limited by their imagination and things can really go bad if they gained access to your smart meter.
The way out
The best thing to do is to chuck the smart meter and go back to analog. However, not all states allow users to exercise that choice and you need to check if you can do that at all.
If you are restricted by law or simply do not want to go through the hassle of calling your utility company, you can invest in a good anti-radiation smart meter cover that protects you from these radiations.
Alternatively, you can paint the wall on which the smart meter is placed with anti-radiation paint, which dampens the radiation rendering it harmless. We have detailed articles about both on our website for your perusal.