Data Ownership vs. Data Privacy: A Word of Caution

Data privacy is at the forefront of discussions in almost everything we do online.  With the advent of smartphones, companies across the globe know what you bought for breakfast, where you hang out, and can even recommend what you might want to watch next or what to purchase. All this is done through data, your data. But is it truly your data?

In the case of an electric utility, data is collected from the electricity demand from your home or business. Utility operations know how much electricity you consume and when you use it. This data however is critical to operational efficiencies so that control room operators may predict load and ensure there is enough electricity when called upon. Much of this data is created through the meter, a device that is fully under the ownership of the utility. This data is stored and managed according to modern data governance policies set in place by utility professionals. A utility will spend millions to ensure customer data is safe and secure with modern encryption methods. It sits on utility owned servers, undergoes utility processes, and is managed by utility staff to enable data driven decision making.

So where is the line between ownership and privacy? Many governments and institutions agree that the customer should have the right to privacy. In 2018, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect giving harsh fines to whomever violates is privacy and security standards. In 2020, California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act (CPRA) was proposed to strengthen the privacy rights of California residents and most recently, Bill C-11 was proposed in Canada, an act to enact the Consumer Privacy Protection Act and the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts.

Bill C-11 puts limited operational power back into customer hands. For example, the bill states that if a customer wanted to have their data deleted from the business owners’ records, they can simply request it and the organization must comply. How will this affect the electricity sector?

Utility analytics professionals use the data to better predicts outage, meet customer demand, conduct asset management and more. Algorithms and predictive models require complete data to provide accurate as possible modelling so that utility decision makers deliver sound insights based on complete and accurate datasets. Without the data, utilities might not be able to allocate resources efficiently and effectively in an emergency. It is important to remember that data privacy is not the same thing as data ownership. After all, we all want safe, sustainable, and reliable electricity powering our ability to see what Netflix will recommend to us next.