The research, which was published in 2012, measured how much power it takes to display certain programs on a television screen. Looking at seven movies and two television shows on five different brands of TV sets, the researchers found that each program had a unique power signature based on how much electric current was needed to show the images on the screen. Among the programs used for the tests was “Star Trek.”
Once the programs’ signatures were identified, the researchers found they could then match that information with data coming out of a smart meter. That meant a power company or other entity could mine this data to determine what a household was watching. The test was comprehensive enough to show the technique is broadly applicable and that there is an urgent need for stronger protections for smart-meter data, the researchers said.
As smart meters roll out around the world, the new technology has been met with anxiety and, at times, protests over security and privacy concerns. Last month, a protester was injured during an altercation with a water-utility employee at a demonstration in Ireland, and citizens’ groups in Australia, the U.S. and Canada have mounted campaigns against the installation of smart meters.