Jamie Thingelstad raised what is likely a common privacy concern regarding Google’s PowerMeter service in the comments of my previous post:
Knowing someone uses 2x the “neighborhood” average of electricity would be a great targeting opportunity. For whatever reason, I find that data crossing a boundary that makes me a little nervous. I don’t know why, just reacting to my gut. Perhaps in a year I wouldn’t care.
This caused me to ponder different ways that one could target advertising based on having access to precise power usage data (hour by hour or even more precise). Here are a few things that came to mind that one may be able to glean from the data:
1. Job changes. Do lights suddenly stop turning on at their regularly scheduled time? Are people suddenly sleeping in?
2. Growing family. Do lights suddenly start coming on at all hours of the night?
3. Home improvement. Are power tools being used?
4. Vacations. Did they just come back from a week on the road? They may need groceries.
5. Divorce. Has dinner’s power consumption switched to reheating pizza slices?
6. Restaurant Junkies. How many times do you need to see this after-work pattern before you start adjusting your advertising to suit this crowd?
7. New TV. That plasma draws some serious power. Better ramp up the ads for Blue-Ray players.
8. College kid returns. Dang, that’s a lot of laundry all of a sudden.
9. Party thrower. Look at those weekend night spikes.
10. Frugality. This person will likely respond well to value based advertising. Ramp up the Consumer Reports ads.
Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with Google serving more relevant advertising to me based on factors such as those above that they should have no problem gleaning from the data they’re collecting. It has the potential of turning advertising into something I’d actually value. It’s good for me and good for advertisers if they can reach me when I’m actually in a position to care. Wouldn’t Pampers prefer to advertise to new parents rather than buy ads that reach an audience that’s only 10% in-market at most?
In some cases, there may need to be a balance of advertising vs. value. If I don’t feel like I’m getting enough value in return for sharing my data with Google, I may choose to opt-out of their program while continuing to use the meter within my own home. The PowerMeter service from T.E.D. is quite valuable with or without Google at this point. In fact, I get real-time rather than incremental data if I view it through T.E.D.’s footprints interface rather than Google PowerMeter. So far, the only advantage of PowerMeter is being able to see what’s happening in my home while I’m gone in 30 minute increments (which I can also see when I’m at home and in a position to do something based on the data).
My hope is that the service achieves a few things such as providing better insight into how I use power, helps me figure out how to conserve energy, and helps others conserve energy based on what I contribute to benchmarks. If the service also generates more relevant advertising that helps publishers make a buck or two off my eyeballs, that seems like a fair trade.
To be clear, I have no idea if Google plans to target ads based on any of the profiles mentioned above. As Jamie pointed out, it’s not clear what Google’s plans are for the data they’re gathering. I have no doubt that they’re capable of profiling people like that and serving increasingly relevant ads based on those profiles, but that doesn’t mean they actually will. For example, Google’s probably capable of profiling gambling addicts and could serve gambling related ads to those users across the web no matter what they searches for since gambling ads are so lucrative, but I’ve never heard of them doing such a thing.
It looks like Amazon will be carrying the PowerMeter from T.E.D. once they’ve caught up with demand.