Calif. extends landmark Smart Grid privacy policy to cover gas usage

Data collected by natural gas SmartMeters used by more than nine million customers in California is now protected under a set of historic privacy rules laid out in the state's Smart Grid initiative.

The California Public Utilities Commission extended a first-of-its-kind utility data privacy policy to cover “smart” gas meters that collect customer usage information to help consumers make more informed decisions.

"I think it's increasingly important in this computerized world that we have these protections for people," said commissioner Michel Florio during an Aug. 23 meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

In 2011, CPUC established similar privacy rules for California’s Smart Grid that covered the collection of customer usage data from the electricity grid.

At the time, the decision was the first such Smart Grid privacy policy established in the United States and drew praise from privacy groups.

The policy created fair information practice requirements, including a consumers right of access and control, data minimization obligations, use and disclosure limitations, and data quality and integrity requirements.

The privacy rules apply to utilities and their contractors, as well as third-parties who receive usage data from those contractors.

Data collection and privacy have become lightning rod issues in the past few years as advertisers, insurers and others have set out to mine terabytes of customer data collected from social networks, smartphones, and many other sources.

Public awareness has risen in the wake of landmark privacy settlements between the Federal Trade Commission and Google and Facebook, along with international cases such as the recent G erman consumer group’s privacy beef with Facebook Apps .

The Smart Grid gives CPUC customers a chance to save money by using less energy and using it when costs are lower. The CPUC calculates those opportunities using data from the Smart Grid and the SmartMeters.

Nearly nine million customers in California have SmartMeters for gas and electric services.

As part of the CPUC ruling, utility provides can collect, store, use and disclose only that data needed for billing. Utility companies also can collect data for use by the grid, and for maintaining efficiency programs.

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