Families who have digital smart energy meters installed in their homes could find the devices are being used to spy on their habits, campaigners have warned.
A Mail investigation has discovered how marketing firms are targeting data collected by smart meters, which reveal how customers use their gas and electricity, and hoping to turn the information they provide in to a steady stream of cash.
Experts say the devices might be used to provide companies with clues to information about customers’ lives which can be used for profit.
Privacy campaigners fear that in the most extreme cases sensitive data could be sold onto healthcare companies which could try and sell specially targeted goods and services to these customers.
Firms must ask customers’ permission before examining in depth data or selling it on to third parties.
But experts fear that many customers who sign up for a smart meter may not be aware of how their data will be used.
A spokesman for privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch said: ‘A smart meter will monitor your homes energy consumption, creating a honeypot of data which energy insurance and marking companies will inevitably be hungry for.
‘These companies will be monitoring our every move whilst in the home.
‘Energy is an essential which we all use, exploiting that data for alternative purposes such as marketing, advertising is a concern and should be flagged in clear language to anyone thinking about installing a smart meter in their home.’
Under Government plans, 50 million homes will be fitted with a smart meter by 2020 in a £11bn drive. Currently around 5,000 properties a day are being fitted with one.
The gadgets allow customers to see on a screen how much exactly their energy costs as they use it.
Information is fed directly to energy companies removing the need for meter readings or estimated bills.
Energy firms benefit too, because they can easily see when demand for gas and electricity is at its highest and jack up energy prices accordingly.
Alternatively, they can lower costs when demand is low.
Although energy firms will have to foot the bill for providing the devices, they are not allowed to directly charge customers for installing smart meters.
But they are expected to claw back these costs in other ways.
xperts say firms are eying up the steady stream of data that the devices provide about customers’ lifestyles as a way of making a profit.
Personal data has been dubbed the ‘new oil’ by marketing firms, who say that the clues it provides about our lifestyles and spending habits.
Companies can use this information to reap huge profits by selling the data on or hitting customers with targeted deals.
Gas and electricity firms will be able to use smart meters to collect information about how customers use energy as frequently as every half hour.
This could reveal details such as which rooms and gadgets clients use most regularly, as well as when homeowners are in or out and even what time they are going to bed or how many cups of tea we make.
A family whose meter showed their home is losing a lot of heat compared to other neighbouring homes, might be a ripe target for insulation or a new boiler.
By contrast someone who uses a lot of energy at peak prices could be identified as a profitable customer and offered extra perks to keep them on the company’s books.
A document by data firm Pitney Bowes describes smart meters as a ‘once in a generation business opportunity for energy providers’.
It says its software will allow energy firms to use smart meters to ‘clearly identify the most profitable customers’ and ‘optimise customer contact by using smart meter data to get relevant offers to the right customers at the right time through their preferred channel’.
It will also help firms to ‘cross-sell, up-sell and retain customers’.