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Data: Tool for Efficiency? Privacy Issue?

Back in the day – in 1935 to be exact – the DuPont company introduced an advertising slogan that captured the spirit of the age:  “Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry.” 

If we were to update this slogan we might now say, “Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Data.”   

Better living through data is a theme for our time, whether its IBM’s “Let’s build a smarter planet,” the Administration’s “Open Data Initiatives” and its Energy Datapalooza, or the idea of “Intelligent Efficiency” that’s woven through recent studies by C2ES, ACEEE and GeSI.   But the flow of data that comes when the Internet of things connects everything – from cars that have more than 100 microprocessors to electric grids that incorporate millions of sensors – may pose new challenges for values like privacy. 

One of our tasks in industry is to address possible privacy concerns at the outset of new product development while at the same time enabling data to be used in new ways, for new services.   Few were concerned with the location information of their home WiFi routers until street map data began to be compiled.   Similarly, first-generation home energy services may not pose much in the way of a privacy risk but there’s certainly possibility for concern in the future if energy data were to be used to reveal patterns of behavior or when a given appliance is used.

The Future or Privacy Forum (FPF) and TRUSTe have given us a great example of how industry can take steps early to address such customer concerns.    Today, the organizations announced a first-of-its-kind privacy seal program for companies using consumer energy information.   The seal will be available to firms offering home energy management, remote home control or security, smart thermostats and other services that depend on access to consumer energy data.

The privacy seal program is the outcome of a successful, multi-stakeholder effort to develop voluntary, enforceable codes to protect privacy while enabling innovation.   The mission is to give people well-founded confidence that they’re in good hands when they take advantage of a new home energy service, and at the same time give inventors the flexibility to develop new data-based services in the first place.   Companies displaying the TRUSTe seal will ensure that when they receive energy data, they will take into account the very real privacy concerns of consumers even as these firms use data in new and creative ways to enable better living for all.

Public Policy Tags: Intelligent Efficiency