Digital Electronic “Internet of Things”(IoT) and “Smart Grid Technologies” to Fully Eviscerate Privacy

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internet3The “Inter­net of Things” (IoT) and Smart Grid tech­nolo­gies will togeth­er be aggres­sive­ly inte­grat­ed into the devel­oped world’s socioe­co­nom­ic fab­ric with lit­tle-if-any pub­lic or gov­ern­men­tal over­sight. This is the over­all opin­ion of a new report by the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, which has announced a series of “rec­om­men­da­tions” to major util­i­ty com­pa­nies and transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions heav­i­ly invest­ed in the IoT and Smart Grid, sug­gest­ing that such tech­nolo­gies should be rolled out almost entire­ly on the basis of “free mar­ket” prin­ci­ples so as not to sti­fle “inno­va­tion.”[1]

As with the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion and the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, the FTC func­tions to pro­vide the sem­blance of demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nance and stud­ied con­cern as it allows cor­po­rate monied inter­ests and pre­rog­a­tives to run roughshod over the body politic.

The IoT refers to all dig­i­tal elec­tron­ic and RFID-chipped devices wire­less­ly con­nect­ed to the inter­net. The num­ber of such items has increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly since the ear­ly 2000s. In 2003 an esti­mat­ed 500 mil­lion gad­gets were con­nect­ed, or about one for every twelve peo­ple on earth. By 2015 the num­ber has grown 50 fold to an esti­mat­ed 25 bil­lion, or 3.5 units per per­son. By 2020 the IoT is expect­ed to dou­ble the num­ber of phys­i­cal items it encom­pass­es to 50 bil­lion, or rough­ly 7 per individual.[2]

The IoT is devel­op­ing in tan­dem with the “Smart Grid,” com­prised of tens of mil­lions of wire­less trans­ceivers (a com­bi­na­tion cel­lu­lar trans­mit­ter and receiv­er) more com­mon­ly known as “smart meters.” Unlike con­ven­tion­al wire­less routers, smart meters are regard­ed as such because they are equipped to cap­ture, store, and trans­mit an abun­dance of data on home ener­gy usage with a degree of pre­ci­sion scarce­ly imag­ined by util­i­ty cus­tomers. On the con­trary, ener­gy con­sumers are typ­i­cal­ly appeased with per­sua­sive pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als from their pow­er com­pa­ny explain­ing how smart meter tech­nol­o­gy allows patrons to bet­ter mon­i­tor and con­trol their ener­gy usage.

Almost two decades ago media soci­ol­o­gist Rick Craw­ford defined Smart Grid tech­nol­o­gy as “real time res­i­den­tial pow­er line sur­veil­lance” (RRPLS). These prac­tices exhib­it­ed all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of eaves­drop­ping and more. “Where­as prim­i­tive forms of pow­er mon­i­tor­ing mere­ly sam­pled one data point per month by check­ing the cumu­la­tive read­ing on the res­i­den­tial pow­er meter,” Craw­ford explains,

mod­ern forms of RRPLS per­mit near­ly con­tin­ued dig­i­tal sam­pling. This allows watch­ers to devel­op a fine-grained pro­file of the occu­pants’ elec­tri­cal appli­ance usage. The com­put­er­ized RRPLS device may be placed on-site with the occu­pants’ knowl­edge and assent, or it may be hid­den out­side and sur­rep­ti­tious­ly attached to the pow­er line feed­ing into the residence.

This device records a log of both resis­tive pow­er lev­els and reac­tive loads as a func­tion of time. The RRPLS device can extract char­ac­ter­is­tic appli­ance “sig­na­tures” from the raw data. For exam­ple, exist­ing [1990s] RRPLS devices can iden­ti­fy when­ev­er the sheets are thrown back from a water bed by detect­ing the duty cycles of the water bed heater. RRPLS can infer that two peo­ple shared a show­er by not­ing an unusu­al­ly heavy load on the elec­tric water heater and that two uses of the hair dry­er followed.[3]

A major­i­ty of util­i­ty com­pa­nies are reluc­tant to acknowl­edge the pro­found­ly advanced capa­bil­i­ties of these mech­a­nisms that have now been effec­tive­ly man­dat­ed for res­i­den­tial and busi­ness clients. Along these lines, when con­front­ed with ques­tions on whether the devices are able to gath­er usage data with such exac­ti­tude, com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives are appar­ent­ly com­pelled to feign igno­rance or demur.

i210Yet the fea­tures Craw­ford describes and their assim­i­la­tion with the IoT are indeed a part of Gen­er­al Electric’s I‑210+C smart meter, among the most wide­ly-deployed mod­els in the US. This meter is equipped with not one, not two, but three trans­ceivers, the I‑210+C’s pro­mo­tion­al brochure explains.[4]

One of the set’s trans­ceivers uses Zig­Bee Pro pro­to­cols, “one of sev­er­al wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion stan­dards in the works to link up appli­ances, light bulbs, secu­ri­ty sys­tems, ther­mostats and oth­er equip­ment in home and enterprises.”[5] With most every new appli­ance now required to be IoT-equipped, not only will con­sumer habits be increas­ing­ly mon­i­tored through ener­gy usage, but over the longer term lifestyle and thus behav­ior will be trans­formed through pow­er rationing, first in the form of “tiered usage,” and even­tu­al­ly in a less accom­mo­dat­ing way through the remote con­trol of “smart” appli­ances dur­ing peak hours.[6]

Infor­ma­tion gath­ered from the com­bined IoT and Smart Grid will also be of immense val­ue to mar­keters that up to now have basi­cal­ly been exclud­ed from the domes­tic sphere. As an affil­i­ate of WPP Pic., the world’s biggest ad agency put it, the data har­vest­ed by smart meters “opens the door to the home. Con­sumers are leav­ing a dig­i­tal foot­print that opens the door to their online habits and to their shop­ping habits and their loca­tion, and the last thing that is under­stood is the home, because at the moment when you shut the door, that’s it.”[7]

esAs the FTC’s 2015 report makes clear, this is the sort of retail (per­mis­si­ble) crim­i­nal­i­ty has­tened by the merg­ing of Smart Grid and IoT tech­nolo­gies also pro­vides an immense facil­i­ty for whole­sale crim­i­nals to scan and mon­i­tor var­i­ous house­holds’ activ­i­ties as poten­tial tar­gets for rob­bery, or worse.

The FTC, util­i­ty com­pa­nies and smart meter man­u­fac­tur­ers alike still defer to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion as con­fir­ma­tion of the alleged safe­ty of Smart Grid and smart meter deploy­ment. This is the case even though the FCC is not char­tered to over­see pub­lic health and, bas­ing its reg­u­la­to­ry pro­ce­dure on severe­ly out­dat­ed sci­ence, main­tains that microwave radi­a­tion is not a threat to pub­lic health so long as no individual’s skin or flesh have risen in temperature.

Yet in the home and work­place the pro­fu­sion of wire­less tech­nolo­gies such as Zig­Bee will com­pound the already sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tive radi­a­tion load of WiFi, cel­lu­lar tele­pho­ny, and the smart meter’s rou­tine trans­mis­sions. The short term phys­i­o­log­i­cal impact will like­ly include weak­ened immu­ni­ty, fatigue, and insom­nia that can has­ten ter­mi­nal illnesses.[8]

Per­haps the great­est irony is how the Inter­net of Things, the Smart Grid and their atten­dant “Smart Home” are sold under the guise of con­ve­nience, per­son­al auton­o­my, even knowl­edge pro­duc­tion and wis­dom. “The more data that is cre­at­ed,” Cis­co gush­es, “the more knowl­edge and wis­dom peo­ple can obtain. IoT dra­mat­i­cal­ly increas­es the amount of data avail­able for us to process. This, cou­pled with the Internet’s abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate this data, will enable peo­ple to advance even further.”[9]

In light of the grave pri­va­cy and health-relat­ed con­cerns posed by this tech­no tsuna­mi, the mem­bers of a sane soci­ety might seri­ous­ly ask them­selves exact­ly where they are advanc­ing, or being com­pelled to advance to.


[1] Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, Inter­net of Things: Pri­va­cy and Secu­ri­ty in a Con­nect­ed World, Wash­ing­ton DC, Jan­u­ary 2015. Acces­si­ble at [2] Dave Evans, “The Inter­net of Things: How the Next Evo­lu­tion of the Inter­net is Chang­ing Every­thing, Cis­co Inter­net Busi­ness Solu­tions Group, April 2011, 3. Acces­si­ble at [3] Rick Craw­ford, “Com­put­er Assist­ed Crises,” in George Gerb­n­er, Hamid Mowlana and Her­bert I. Schiller (eds.) Invis­i­ble Crises: What Con­glom­er­ate Con­trol of Media Means for Amer­i­can and the World, Boul­der CO: West­view Press, 1996, 47–81. [4] “I‑210+C with Sil­ver Spring Net­works Micro-AP” [Brochure], Gen­er­al Elec­tric, Atlanta Geor­gia. Acces­si­ble at [5] Stephen Law­son, “Zig­Bee 3.0 Promis­es One Smart Home Stan­dard for Many Uses,”, Novem­ber 16, 2014. [6] One of the Unit­ed States’ largest util­i­ties, Pacif­ic Gas & Elec­tric, has already intro­duced tiered pric­ing to curb ener­gy usage in sum­mer months dur­ing “high demand” times of the day. [7] Louise Down­ing, “WPP Unit, Onzo Study Har­vest­ing Smart-Meter Data,”, May 11, 2014. [8] Sue Kovach, “The Hid­den Dan­gers of Cell­phone Radi­a­tion,” Life Exten­sion Mag­a­zine, August 2007; James F. Tra­cy, “Loom­ing Health Cri­sis: Wire­less Tech­nol­o­gy and the Tox­i­fi­ca­tion of Amer­i­ca,”, July 8, 2012. [9] Evans, 6.