Smart Grid

October 01, 2012

Future of Privacy Forum and TRUSTe Offer a 'Privacy Seal' for the Smart Grid

The future is here and it doesn’t look pretty. Four U.S. banks— Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo (News - Alert)—were hacked last week by a Middle Eastern group that used the name, Operation Ababil, meaning “swarm.” Wells Fargo said in messages posted on Twitter (News - Alert) that the website,, received hundreds of complaints from customers who were locked out of the bank’s website on September 26.

Now, electric distributors and utilities nationwide and worldwide are looking at the implications for the increasingly Web-reliant energy industry of a potential “hack attack.” Is it possible to protect the consumer energy information that is carried over the smart grid? The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), a Washington, DC-based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices, has offered a way.

On Monday, FPF announced the development a first- of-its-kind privacy seal program for companies that use consumer energy information. The seal will be powered by TRUSTe, the leading data privacy management company—recognized by online shoppers everywhere— with over 5,000 business customers.

The seal will be available to companies offering home energy management, remote home control or security, smart thermostats and other services that seek to access consumer energy data.

To create the program, FPF and TRUSTe worked major companies— including AT&T (News - Alert), Comcast, Ecofactor, IBM, Intel, Motorola, Neustar, Opower, Tendril, and Verizon. Utilities and utility regulators also provided input on the program. The program will include an advisory committee comprising the Edison Electric Institute, the GridWise Alliance and consumer advocates.

“Consumers, utility regulators and utilities must all be sure that companies that seek to access consumer energy data gain consumer consent and have responsible privacy practices in place,” said FPF Director Jules Polonetsky.

“The seal program is exactly the kind of self-regulatory approach that augments the legal framework protecting privacy, especially in an area that is new and developing,” commented FPF Founder and Co-chair Christopher Wolf (News - Alert).

“As a number of new and upcoming innovations for the home rely on the collection and use of consumer energy data, a self-regulatory program powered by independent third party enforcement will ensure that participating companies commit to responsible practices,” remarked TRUSTe CEO Chris Babel.

“I applaud the Future of Privacy Forum’s new privacy seal program, which will help to ensure that personal consumer-usage data is strongly protected. The seal is a reflection of Privacy by Design which requires that a proactive approach be taken. PbD recognizes that privacy is best assured when it is strategically interwoven into operational processes and business practices,” said Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, an international leader in privacy issues.

“Opower works in partnership with 75 US utilities to deliver personalized energy-saving insight in a manner that ensures maximal data security and privacy. We applaud FPF for its leadership in developing this seal program, which will help ensure best practices as utilities seek to enhance consumer data access,” said Arkadi Gerney, Opower’s senior director for Policy, Partnerships and Public Affairs.

FPF has created a model short consent form for third parties seeking to access consumer energy usage data.  In addition, if you are an app developer collecting energy data, check out our materials here.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Austin 2012, happening now in Austin, TX.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman