When Wattwatchers began developing our major consumer energy data initiative, the $8 million My Energy Marketplace project, we anticipated that consumer data rights – especially security and privacy – would be front-and-centre in our Australia-wide rollout. Turns out, according to Apple, we were spot on!
GETTING CONNECTED: GAVIN DIETZ
Who noticed it was international Data Privacy Day on the 28th of January? It was easy enough to miss here in Australia, with many kids going back to school on the 29th after the long summer holidays, and our nation variously celebrating, enjoying, avoiding, denouncing or merely debating the Australia Day national public holiday on the 26th.
As a self-avowed Apple fan, I for one was clued in to Data Privacy Day, with its consumer warning theme of ‘Own Your Privacy’.
Apple decided to make a big deal out of the day, releasing its hypothetical case study, A Day in the Life of Your Data, which uses simplified storytelling to make complex technology issues highly accessible to everyday consumers; and foreshadowing its ‘app-tracking transparency’ ramp-up to further protect customers who are using the extended ‘app ecosystem’.
Be sure to check out the case study and video introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook linked at the end of this post. First, however, I want to share how Cook’s very public position that ‘security is the foundation of privacy’ has been informing and shaping the Wattwatchers-led My Energy Marketplace (MEM) project, which is backed by a $2.7 million grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
Data rights formula
Two years ago, in January 2019, Cook laid out in Time Magazine his four-point formula for consumer data rights, being the rights to: 1. Minimise personal data collected; 2. Knowledge; 3. Access; 4. Security. At the time, Wattwatchers readily adopted Cook’s priorities, while also canvassing a fifth point that we believed could be added, which was that customers also should have the right to benefit – financially, or otherwise – from value that is created using their data, as long as they want to!
At the time the MEM project was still only a proposal, working its way through the strenuous approvals process for taxpayer-funded ARENA grants. Now, however, the three-year MEM project has begun its second year, with hundreds of home, small business and school sites already installed, towards a planned total of over 5,000 by November 2022.
At Wattwatchers we’ve long been highly engaged in consumer rights issues related to energy data, particularly because in the traditional electricity system access to data for consumers has been highly restricted, or at best inconvenient. Energy companies have controlled the data most relevant to consumers, including billing information and power quality indicators, and the consumers themselves have been disempowered by lack of access.
Thankfully this is starting to change through the Australian Government’s Consumer Data Right (CDR) reforms, which are somewhat modelled on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), even if they aren’t quite as extensive as the Euro version. Nonetheless, we’ve still got a long way to go for consumers to get easy, comprehensive access to the data that utilities collect in ever-greater volume as so-called ‘smart meters’ take over from their analogue predecessors.
Data empowers consumers
For well over a decade now is consumers installing their own smart devices, like a Wattwatchers, to provide a solution. This can turn the tables on the energy companies, providing consumers with access to more data, in real-time, instead of waiting days, weeks or even months for their data to become available through formal industry channels (like the dreaded monthly or quarterly power bill, always in arrears, frequently only estimated).
In the world of Facebook and Google, and with the lessons learnt from data abuse scandals like the now infamous Cambridge Analytica case, we’re all becoming acutely conscious of our data protection vulnerabilities (think of films like Netflix’s The Social Dilemma). But energy data historically has been different, because it simply hasn’t been available through the internet, so can’t be easily scooped up by app tracking technologies that feed into detailed profiling and online targeting of individual consumers.
In one way that’s a good thing, because granular energy data combined with other behavioural data tracked across multiple apps has the potential to be very revealing. Thus energy data is valuable to marketers, and perhaps to others with more sinister motives than simply selling you more stuff. On the other hand, energy data is potentially immensely valuable to innovate and improve services for consumers themselves, and to better understand and operate the digital-and-distributed electricity system that is often referred to as “Grid 2.0”.
Much is changing, and the future that Wattwatchers now anticipates will be with us within a decade includes a massive proliferation of energy data online. Most of this will come from consumer-connected devices of all kinds – monitors, remote controllers, inverters, chargers, sensors – united with other data sources like market prices, weather, location, mobility and more to unlock the Internet of Things (IoT) for energy. We also see that real-time, granular energy data is becoming increasingly useful for non-energy use cases, for example predictive maintenance and asset protection in industry.
At Wattwatchers, we’re proud to be a homegrown Australian pioneer in shaping this energy-data-rich future. There’s a positive inevitability about all of this, with growing numbers of people already experiencing it, especially those who invest in their own energy infrastructure – such as rooftop solar, battery storage and electric vehicles – turning them from consumers into prosumers (who both produce and consume energy).
To signal how Wattwatchers is positioning to collaborate with customers in this data-driven future, I’d like to share with you the Preamble to our purpose-developed Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) for the mydata.energy app. These were created in 2020, the first year of the MEM, and have already been accepted by hundreds of users. Their development has been guided by our legal advisers, Sainty Law; the MEM’s Consumer Energy Data Advisory Panel, an independent panel of external experts; ARENA itself; user testing both internally and externally, and also extensive feedback from our project partners.
Our position is simple. Deliberately user-friendly, informative, plain English T&Cs are a vital part of the solution equation for energy IoT, and will be a core focus for ongoing innovation by Wattwatchers, and I hope many other companies in our space. As Apple’s Tim Cook told Time Magazine back in 2019, ‘… laws alone aren’t enough to ensure that individuals can make use of their privacy rights. We also need to give people tools that they can use to take action.’
MYDATA.ENERGY: T&Cs PREAMBLE
This document outlines the legal terms for using the mydata.energy platform, app and service. mydata.energy is an intelligent real-time energy management application for homes and small businesses that operates independently of your power company’s billing meter.
To provide the benefits of the app and related services to you, we ask your permission to collect, use, and share your energy and related data to provide the benefits of the app and related services to you.
We know it is critical that your data is treated securely and with respect. We apply these core principles to how we do things:
- You control your energy data—who can access it, and for what purpose—and you can take your data with you when you change electricity suppliers;
- Your personal data is always treated in accordance with Australian privacy law, and we don’t share it with anyone else without your express permission;
- All other data is used for the purpose for which it was collected only, unless you provide your express permission to sharing beyond that purpose.
So that we can minimise the cost to you of providing the app and services, You agree to allow us to:
- Share non-personal, non-identifiable data we create or collect,
with third-parties on a commercial and non-commercial basis.
- Send you notifications, in accordance with your preferences, about products and offers that may be of value to you, based on your profile and your stated preferences. You are always free to accept or reject these offers.
We encourage you to understand your rights and responsibilities by reading the full Terms & Conditions. Please take the time to become comfortable with this contract prior to incurring costs of installation of monitoring device hardware and the services.
Some provisions protect Wattwatchers and are vital to allow us to provide the mydata.energy service. You may reject the T&Cs upfront, or withdraw your acceptance later, but if you do Wattwatchers will not be able to provide you with the mydata.energy service, or provide access to your data to third parties who provide services to you.
If you have any questions about the mydata.energy service, or how we propose to handle your data, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Gavin Dietz is the CEO of Wattwatchers Digital Energy. He wants you to know that the mydata.energy app is available on Android as well as Apple (even if it’s very clear where his true allegiances lie). The full T&Cs are accessed by downloading the mydata.energy app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, and can also be reviewed here.
LINKS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The My Energy Marketplace project is receiving funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program. The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government, and the Australian Government does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.