Government moves to address smart meter privacy concerns

New documents confirm suppliers will not be able to use energy consumption data for marketing purposes without consent

Plans to deploy smart meters in 30 million homes and businesses across the UK have taken a major step forward, after the government confirmed new rules designed to protect consumer privacy and enhance security.

Suppliers will not be able to use smart meter energy consumption data for marketing purposes unless they have explicit consent from the customers, while consumers will also be able to choose how often energy suppliers can access their consumption data, the government confirmed yesterday.

Baroness Verma, under-secretary of state for energy and climate change, unveiled a series of documents, covering various aspects of the smart meter programme including a consumer-engagement strategy and the government’s response to a consultation on its planned data access and privacy rules.

“The introduction of smart meters nationwide is, of course, an enormous challenge, representing a vast upgrade of our energy system,” said Verma.

“Let me be clear: the consumer comes first. That’s why we are tackling issues such as privacy, security, consumer protection and communications now, working with industry and consumer groups to make sure we get this right ahead of the mass rollout.”

Government will also establish a central delivery body to “reassure” smart metering consumers and help them better manage their energy consumption and expenditure using the technology.

In addition, utilities will also be required to remind customers they can change their minds over their data options and provide annual reports to government setting out their progress on the mass rollout.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also published the findings of a survey highlighting consumers’ dominant concern was that personal information collected from smart meters would be used for unwanted marketing phone calls.

It also found many people were initially suspicious about energy companies’ motivations for deploying smart meters, which are designed to improve billing accuracy and help people curb their energy use.

However, respondents were less sceptical once it was explained that companies were compelled to install smart meters as part of the government’s ambition to reduce carbon emissions from the energy and housing sectors.

Welcoming the announcement, Angela Knight, chief executive of trade association EnergyUK, said energy companies are keen to protect consumers’ interests throughout the rollout.

“Smart meters are set to transform how people understand and manage their energy use, and 2013 will see a number of initiatives put in place to ensure customers understand the benefits of smart meters over the coming years,” she said.

“Along with other energy projects, smart meters will play an important part in modernising Britain’s infrastructure and creating jobs.”

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