Facebook has been in the news recently for customer privacy issues. Public concerns center around how their personal information is handled, collected, sold to third parties, and exposed to hacks or data leaks. Increasingly, there is discomfort with personal data being shared with private companies for profiling and market analysis. The scrutiny of Facebook over privacy concerns mirrors what is happening to companies and organizations that handle sensitive or identifying information, even if that information is readily provided by the end-user.
This concern over Personal Identifying Information not only stems from a person’s digital footprint, but can also be an issue right
outside the customer’s home or businesses at the water meter. As water utilities discover the value of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), what type of information are these new meters collecting exactly? What happens to that data? Should we, as customers, be worried about the information being recorded about our water use and then used by the utility? Are these new meters less accurate or pose a health risk?
To allay these concerns and to provide answers to these frequently asked questions, the table below identifies some common misconceptions of an AMI system and provides researched responses to address health, privacy, accuracy, and data security of AMI systems.
Table 1: Displays major concerns about AMI and the misconceptions associated with the technology.
|Misconception: RF waves coming from AMI meter systems could have negative health impacts.
Radio frequency (RF) emitted from water meters has been proven to be about 25% of the RF coming from the average cell phone, and is in the ground in the yard. All research substantiates the claim that RF waves at low frequencies over long periods of time to have no long-term health effects.
|Privacy||Misconception: AMI invades customer privacy by collecting personally sensitive data.
AMI water meters only record consumption data from that meter ID and transmit encrypted consumption data to the headend that sends the packaged information in another encryption for the back office. Customer or personally identifying information is only accessible by water utility representatives with user-restricted access to customer information like consumption history and service address.
|Accuracy||Misconception: The new bills after AMI installation have changed so these new meters are inaccurate.
AMI meters report interval read data which is automatically transmitted in batches at specific times. In fact, the read data is expected to be much more accurate, as it is not subject to human error when being automatically transferred and due to the increase in read and reporting intervals (hourly versus monthly). With advanced technology, if your bill increases, it is most likely due to increased accuracy or usage.
|Data Security||Misconception: Data collected from AMI water meters is stored with limited data protection protocols.
Usually in AMI systems, the data collected from the meters and sensitive customer personal information is stored in third-party cloud services with companies like Google, Amazon, or the utility’s AMI software provider through Software as a Service, or hosted system support. Water utilities with hosted systems have contractual agreements that stipulate data backup and disaster recovery standards and outline specific privacy and security protocols.
AMI allows utilities to better serve their customers through more accurate readings, increased consumption monitoring, improving resource conservation, and increased oversight to quickly identify and resolve issues like leaks. Customer Portals can allow customers to better monitor their own water usage and habits and easily pay their bill online. While AMI increases the volume and the sources of data the utility must be responsible for protecting, through hosted software, encrypted source data, and limited access to personal identifying information, more information means better service. To learn more about the protections that public water utilities have deployed to increase cybersecurity, please refer to this previous MeterSYS article.