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Sunday, July 28, 2013
Probably the biggest problem facing consumers today is privacy and data collection. A lot of information is being collected on us — what we buy, where we are, who we talk to, what we watch on TV — the list is endless. New technology makes it possible to collect even more information, and information collected for one purpose is used for others, even unrelated purposes. There is no policy that assures us that information on us is ours or that it will not be used against us. In fact, it is generally assumed that we trade our information for other benefits.
The particular consumer concerns vary with the specific equipment. I do not have details about the system planned for the Western Virginia Water Authority; but consumers, consider:
n What information is collected and how is it used? In addition to benefits, are there risks or new problems that could result? For example, if the smart meter makes it easier to disconnect service, will someone with bill problems be disconnected sooner? Might the meters make it possible for “someone” to decide you used too much water and turn off your supply? Could the meter lead to time-of-use rates that result in higher costs to use water at certain times?
n Who will have access to information? Consumers are concerned if the information is shared with others or combined with other information for unknown purposes. Today, data from many sources are combined for behavioral marketing. Marketers say it allows them to better meet our needs. They may also influence us to do things (buy things) that aren’t in our best interest. Or the government may use it for some purpose we can’t imagine right now.
n Could unauthorized people access my information? Remember all the problems we had when cell phones were new and people got our phone numbers as we drove under bridges? We found out when we got exorbitant bills. We need to assure that smart meter security prevents unauthorized access. Thieves might check water use to determine who’s away from home, for example.
n What will it cost? Consumers are concerned about both direct and indirect costs. How much will the monthly bill increase? How long will it take to pay for it? Given the huge need to update aging water infrastructure, is this the best use of our dollars right now? Would it be better to let the smart meter technology mature before we invest in it? Will meters be useful longer than the payoff period? What will it cost me to access my information? Will the information be understandable? Will current workers lose jobs?
Consumers, carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of the proposed new meters. Monetary costs are just part of the equation.
Weather Journal7 wintry scenarios for Sunday