[BC Hydro – Data – FortisBC – Green Button – Privacy | BC – Canada – USA]
We all know that our data is very valuable, and by selling it, BC Hydro or FortisBC could make more money than by selling us electricity. We are told that our data will not be sold without our permission. Sounds reassuring, but we cannot take this on faith. Some utilities offer “gifts” or minor reductions if we agree to something that sounds innocuous but isn’t. One member has spent a lot of time investigating how our permission could be obtained without our knowing it. Many thanks to Carol.
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Under BC Hydro’s “Prescribed requirements for smart meters” is a customer portal capable of supporting an “in-home meter device” that allows a customer to see his/her daily energy consumption. Sounds pretty innocuous, even though it’s unknown how many customers want or would use this feature. Now BC Hydro has something even more “convenient” called Green Button, which customers can click on to give BC Hydro permission to download their personal data in a form that can be read. (Apparently only computers can read the raw data.) Again, sounds like they’re doing this all for us – but here is where utilities begin to get the very personalized data that is worth more to them than the revenue they get from selling us electricity. To get some idea of what Green Button is, scroll down this site about halfway to the Green Button and click on it. Be sure to read it carefully all the way through.
The next step after the Green Button Download My Data is the Green Button Connect My Data (sometimes called Share My Data), which is where third party vendors of energy-efficiency products – everything from energy-saving appliances to solar panels to offers to do a “free” audit of your energy use to companies that will help you manage your bills when you can’t pay them – are waiting for you to click on one of their offerings. But read the fine print: by doing this, you are agreeing to allow your utility to share your personal data with any and all third parties that want it.
There is no charge for these third parties accessing your information straight from the utility. In fact, they will be PAID by the utility if they somehow get most of their clients to cut down on their electricity use, thus saving the utilities the costs of setting up incentive programs and making all the “offers” themselves. There’s even a term for this: customer-funded energy efficiency. Think about this term. We (utility ratepayers all over North America) are being charged sky-high energy rates so that third parties can get us to lower our unaffordable bills by reducing our consumption (and/or selling us products that will “help” us do this) so that our utilities (not to mention the third parties) can continue to make money. And what prevents these third parties from sharing our data with any other parties?
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Privacy Commissioner can do anything about it, since the wording is very clear that the customer has to opt in – to willingly choose to give his/her consent, both to download their own data from BC Hydro (a dangerous step, in my opinion) and to share that data with a third party. They’re counting on people to gloss over the actual meaning of the wording, such as “…automate the secure transfer of their own energy usage data to authorized third parties.” People tend to focus on the “secure” part, thinking it protects their data, but it actually means giving your OK to have your personal energy usage data shared automatically with any and all third parties who may want it in the future, once you agree to share it with one third party.
It’s clear that BC Hydro’s Green Button connects to US companies – it’s no barrier to “analyze” a Canadian home and offer “energy-saving” or “green” solutions across the border. Perhaps because there aren’t any wholly Canadian companies as yet, but I’m sure there will be. It sounds to me like the whole grid is super-national – we’re already connected to the northwestern states and probably California, too. They just don’t tell us. Why should they bother, when we’re only the owners of the public utility? The arrogance is breathtaking.
I think there are two things to emphasize here. One is that many of these “energy efficiency” vendors will be offering “free” services – personal advice on how to lower your bills, for instance – but that any time something is offered for free, especially online, YOU (or at least your personal information) are the product. Any time you voluntarily enter your email address and a password on any site on the Internet, you are agreeing to share at least some of your personal information.
Second, I think people should be warned about Green Button, and especially Green Button Connect (or Share) my Data (which I’m not sure BC Hydro has yet, but from the sound of it, they soon will). The really sneaky thing about it is that you apparently have to click on Green Button Download my Data to have your information presented in intelligible form. (It can only be “read” in original form by a computer.) Then it’s an easy step to click on the Green button Connect my Data as well – and of course they make it sound like it’s all for your benefit. Here are some links that should make it crystal clear that it is the vendors, not the customer, who benefits most. (I mean, how hard is it to figure out where most of your electricity usage is going, or how you can reduce it, or whether you want to consider solar panels?)
There is an awful lot of information to absorb in these links, but I hope people will take the time to go through all of them very carefully.
Green Button Alliance (Canadian participation) – click on ‘Join’ to see who wants your information.
Green Button Data – click on Get My Data
One of the links in this (Green Button Data) is truly frightening – here it is by itself. Scroll down on the left side to “Home Simulation,” click, and then read “Home Profile” to see just how much information vendors want – and can get, with the owner’s permission through Green Button Share my Data. “Tendril” really is an appropriate name for this company!
Green Button for Residential Use – click on Share My Data feature of Green Button (this is PG&E, but it is or will be identical across utilities)
I think all we can do is try to educate people as to the consequences of “sharing” or “connecting” their data. I see we’ve all been misled into thinking the greatest danger to privacy is from hacking. No, it’s from giving up our privacy voluntarily via Green Button Connect my Data. They (utilities, etc.) will claim that any information shared is made anonymous – just because it doesn’t include your name and street address – but just look at the information being gathered. How hard would it be for someone to connect such intricate data (such as on the Tendril site) to your house?
50 % of people surveyed in the US would share data in exchange for lower bills.
Director, Coalition to Stop Smart Meters
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it…….
~ Upton Sinclair