Researchers claim smart meters can reveal TV viewing habits


Münster, Germany — (METERING.COM) — September 21, 2011 – A group of researchers at the Münster University of Applied Sciences have claimed that it is possible to use the electricity usage data from a smart electricity meter to determine which programs a consumer is watching on a standard TV set.

The test results, which have been presented in draft form and are yet to be formally published (presumably with peer review), also suggest that it may be possible to identify films played from a DVD or other source, the researchers claim.

The tests were carried out by Prof. Dr.-Ing U. Greveler, Dr. B. Justus, D. Löhr of Münster University’s IT Security Laboratory as part of the state-funded DaPriM (data privacy management) project.

The researchers conducted the investigation at a private residence in RWE’s service area in North Rhine-Westphalia, with a 3-phase Zähler Q3D smart meter from EasyMeter reading at 2 second intervals and the smart meter data sent to the company’s consumer web portal. They were able to readily identify the consumption profiles of the standard household appliances, including refrigerator, kettle, hot water heater, microwave, washing machine, oven and lighting. In addition, they were able to identify the TV and to match the light and dark scenes in a film to the smart meter data.

They then generalize this to suggest that through analysis of programs being broadcast at any time – and provided there is minimum interference from other devices – it may be possible to determine the channel to which the TV was set.

In the light of these results the researchers call for a tightening of data protection regulations, including a restriction on the length of time data is stored.