Why I just told the PowerPal technician to go away

Trigger warning: rant ahead

PowerPal is a free service offered to Seniors to allow them to monitor their electricity usage. Given that we’re on fixed incomes while electricity [and gas] prices soar, being able to see how much electricity our appliances use is very helpful. Free is good too. But as they used to say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 😦

What is the price you have to pay for this free service? Geo location, that’s what.

For anyone under…50? GPS and geo location are so ubiquitous that no one even thinks about the security/privacy aspects. The truth is though, that Google – via Android mobile phones – can learn all sorts of things about us simply from knowing where we live…and where we go. That information is then shared with shadowy companies that aggregate that data to provide profiling data to big advertisers. That’s why advertisers send you all those strangely precise ads.

Those ads rake in big money, and ALL of the tech companies get their snouts in the trough, but Google and Facebook are two of the worst offenders.

I cut Facebook out of my life completely, and I tried to do the same to Google, but it’s simply not possible, not unless I move to a desert island and communicate by carrier pigeon. So I have a Youtube channel [Youtube is now owned by Google], and I have an Android [also owned by Google] mobile phone, but geo location is NOT enabled on that phone.

Mobile phones are the new black…

I was really looking forward to controlling my electricity consumption a bit better, so when I read about PowerPal on the Seniors newsletter, I jumped at the chance. Today was the day the technician came to install the hardware. I watched [fully masked] while he attached the lead from the hardware to my electricity meter. Then he helped me install the software on my phone. And only then was I informed that the app would not work without geo location enabled.

I won’t lie. For one awful moment, I stood there, silently debating whether turning on geo location would really be that bad? After all, everything was set up ready to go. And the technician said that geo location only had to be on when I wanted to check my usage…

And then reality hit home. Was I really going to turn geo location on and off every time? Of course not. I’d probably do it for the first week or so, but after that I’d either forget to turn it off, cave to convenience and keep it on, or simply not use the bloody app because it was too much of a hassle. In the meantime, Google would be able to track every move I made. Nah ah. Not gonna happen.

I know what most of you will be thinking right now – ‘This is paranoia.’ ‘Why would Google care about you?’ etc etc etc. And you’d be right. Google has no reason to care about me. I’m totally unimportant, and my life is completely boring, but that’s not the point. The point is that geo location would be one more piece in the jigsaw puzzle needed by the algorithms used by the ad networks to profile me.

Now let’s take it one step further. I’m completely unimportant, but what about my contacts? Do I know someone hiding from an abusive partner? Could a small, digital connection to me bring that person into danger?

You laugh. Ho ho, fiction writer syndrome.

Don’t be naive. Nasty people are happy to pay for apps that allow them to track their victims. Maybe not in our comfortable, middle class world, but they are out there and so are the algorithms that vacuum up every scrap of personal data we give away because…we have nothing to hide.

I don’t have anything to hide either, but maybe someone I know does. Maybe that someone is only a friend of a friend of a friend, but where’s the guarantee that a bit of throw away information won’t do them harm? Or what of the kids we’re so proud of. Do you really think that only nice people look at the photos of our kids and grandkids?

Of all the bits of information we give away daily, geo location is one of the most critical because it provides our physical location in the real world. That may not worry you; it worries me. So I told the technician to uninstall the hardware and the app.

The poor guy left so fast he must have thought he was dealing with a crazy lady. Then again, he looked to be in his early twenties. A child of the information age. Immortal. Invincible. Totally unconcerned about his privacy or online security because…it can’t happen! Right?

Okay, that’s me done. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. If anyone knows of a way to monitor energy consumption without selling my soul to Google, or paying an arm and a leg, I’m all ears.

cheers,
Meeks

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

48 responses to “Why I just told the PowerPal technician to go away

  • robbiesinspiration

    HI Meeks, I use Google Maps which needs your geo location. I need Google maps because I have no sense of direction (and I mean none) so I just suck it up. I do understand your POV though, but I am much happier having Google Maps than trying to read a physical map.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Yorgos KC

    “I know what most of you will be thinking right now – β€˜This is paranoia.’”

    No, it’s not. And this “comfortable, middle class” doesn’t help either. And this geo location (which is extracted by GPS, WiFi, and Bluetooth, which Google, Apple and MicroSoft so strongly advice you should always have turned on) is not an insignificant information to actual criminals. A friend of mine – his mother actually – was scammed thanks to that very info.

    Long story short, “coincidently”, while he was in a traffic jam, at a place where the mountains cut off the signal, his mother received a phone call informing her that her son had a near-deadly traffic accident and where she should send money right away. She did think to call her son, but line didn’t connect and she believed the caller. Not rich people, if that’s what you are thinking. Plain, everyday folks.

    It’s easy to say, “that’s so stupid of her”, but can we really say for sure that, if we were to be informed of something like that we would keep our clear and rational mind and calmingly think, “yeah, right! this is a scam!” ?

    So, yeap, I’m with you. I dislike geo location, too, and when I do need it (like when I’m lost which happens more often than I’d like to admit) I only use *pure* GPS, without WiFi/Bluetooth/mobile signal support. Google dislikes that, so, that’s probably the best policy 🀣

    There is an app you can find on PlayStore, called NoRoot Firewall. I use it for years. It has an auto-start function that doesn’t always work with newer Android systems, so when you restart your phone you might need to manually run it. Worth the effort, in my opinion. You can block whatever you don’t want to have access to internet, which helps stopping Google randomly turning on your GPS for a moment to check where you are – which I didn’t know Google does until I saw it trying and failing, because I block that internal app with this firewall. It can also help you stop other apps sending Facebook info, which every single app does. It’s easier to cut yourself off of FB on a laptop/desktop than on your phone, actually.

    Sorry for all the blabbering πŸ˜…πŸ˜‡πŸ’–

    Liked by 1 person

    • acflory

      OMG…that’s awful. As a Mum myself, I’d sell my soul if I thought the Offspring was in trouble and money could help. That is such a mean, horrible thing to do to that poor woman. Gods I hate these bastards. Sorry for the French.
      I have only two apps on my Samsung phone and neither requires GPS so it’s always off, along with Bluetooth etc so I think I’m ok. Thanks for the tip though. I’ll keep it in reserve in case I do end up needing it.
      -hugs-

      Liked by 1 person

  • Widdershins

    It’s amusing (in a gallows-humour kind of way) and truly horrifying at how COMPLETELY clueless the current generation, (and probably their parents as well) are regarding this sort of thing.
    And the very reasons you cite, (it’s not necessarily you who gets dinged/scammed/stalked/etc but the good old 6 degrees of separation really comes into play here) are the very things that they are most clueless about.
    The me-me-me-first-last-and-everywhere-inbetween culture they’ve almost completely absorbed has left them so vulnerable that I wonder if they would even understand what’s happened to them when it all inevitably comes crashing down around their ears. Ten years, maybe less, and the world is going to look very different.

    Liked by 3 people

    • acflory

      Yes, and for some it’s already happened. Just published a post about a scam email I received today. It was sent from the gmail account of some poor bastard who probably has no idea that his/her account, and possibly the whole computer, has been hacked and used to hack into other peoples’ computers.
      I just got through sending him/her an email [not from my ‘good’ email address] to warn him/her of what’s happened. I just hope my email isn’t ignored or sent to spam.
      They’re babes-in-arms and have no idea of the potential dangers they face. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yorgos KC

        Allow me to politely disagree on the “whether the age plays a role to this” part. My father, both on his phone and on his laptop, had always had the “please track every single thing I’m doing” kind of policy and never paid any attention to my yelling… ehm… my calm warnings, I meant to say, always replying, “as if Google/FB/etc would ever be interested in me”.

        You probably can guess – correctly – I’m of a younger generation than my father πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ (My mother does the same, too, but *somewhat* listens. Somewhat!)

        I think it’s mostly a matter of having the knowledge/information, rather than age, and gathering that info is a matter of character/mindset. Of course I’m not talking about young teenagers and younger kids than them, who they *should* be more overly-confident and more ignorant. Yes, should. It’s the natural and healthy thing, after all. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Hey you. πŸ™‚ Lovely to hear from you. And yes, you are right, a lot of people my age are totally oblivious too. I guess the 20-somethings just look as if they’re not paying attention. πŸ˜€ I am very glad that you’re ahead of the game. Commiserations on your parents though. I just hope they don’t learn the hard way. At least you’ll be there to help pick up the pieces.
          -hugs-

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yorgos KC

            Hello! πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–
            Yeah… I’ve been away for longer than I realised. A whole year actually πŸ˜…
            I’ll try to catch up, as much as possible. Hope you won’t mind some comments in older posts πŸ˜‡

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Of course I don’t mind! But you’re going to have to catch me up on your drawing and writing as well. πŸ˜€

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yorgos KC

            Many, many thanks for the understanding and for the encouragement!

            I’ve done some drawing and, very recently, started working on a short of a character of another story, which I’m very happy about, for I haven’t managed to write a proper sentence since the middle of our first lockdown. 😁

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            Aaaah…I know exactly what you mean about the writing. I’ve been struggling as well. Still struggling actually, but at least there’s /something/ starting to happen on the page. πŸ™‚
            I’m really glad the drought has broken for you. -hugs-

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yorgos KC

            Thank you! πŸ€—πŸ’–πŸ€—
            I’m sure you’ll do great! Show this “drought” of yours who’s the boss!
            Best of luck and success!
            πŸ€πŸ€πŸ€

            Liked by 1 person

          • acflory

            lol – trying. πŸ˜€

            Liked by 1 person

  • roughwighting

    Thanks for ranting with us. I learn so much from your rants. This is scary stuff. It’s hard (impossible?) to have privacy and of course they are “using” you or otherwise they’d install without insisting on the geo locator. A cabin in the woods – no wires (as opposed to wireless) sounds better and better.

    Liked by 3 people

    • acflory

      Yeah, it is scary stuff. The cowboys all seem to be wearing black hats. :/
      In a small update, I checked some reviews [after the fact] and discovered that a lot of people complain that the device either doesn’t work, only works if your phone is right next to the device, or it works for a bit and then stops working. I think I’ve had a bit of luck in not giving in to convenience.
      I wouldn’t mind that cabin in the woods except for the snakes and spiders. Just a wuss at heart. πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  • MELewis

    Always enjoy your rants, Meeks, even though we see sometimes things so very differently. To me these things are the price we pay to live in a connected world (admittedly, a for-profit one) and when I think of all we’ve gained to have access to so much information, it feels worth it. I understand that others (like yourself) may well find the price far too high. The tracking frankly doesn’t worry me, unless it gets creepily personal, which it hasn’t (touch wood). But I must say, it kind of cracks me up that you make a point of withholding personal data yet share your most intimate thoughts online. I’m being provocative but pretty sure you’ll forgive me! 😜

    Liked by 3 people

    • acflory

      -giggles- Forgiven! You’re right, I share my /thoughts/ but I’m very careful never to share any info that could identify precisely where I live. Warrandyte is a big place and I never show any photos of the front of the house, or the rego of my car etc. I will share the names of my blogger friends but that’s because they’ve already chosen to become public to a certain extent.
      And that’s the bottomline: choosing to share, and choosing what to share. As a writer who’d like to be read, I have to become public, but I work hard to ensure my public face never puts anyone else at risk.
      It /is/ a fine line, but I believe that choice is the one, true, inalienable right of every individual.

      Liked by 2 people

  • Anonymole

    One of the most disconcerting emails to receive is Google’s Maps Review — “Here’s where have you gone in the last month”
    Holy Shit Batman. it’s like looking at an FBI tracing.
    No Way Jose’. I turn that crap off and leave it off.
    What a sinister world we live in these days.

    Liked by 3 people

    • acflory

      Gah…I didn’t even know that was a thing! Sinister is definitely the word. Creepy is another. It’s also a really good example of what can be done with data these days.
      A few years ago, a writer on Medium clued me in to how much tracking actually goes on, but it’s not until you /see/ it for yourself that it hits home.
      I think the big problem is that we see each piece of data as part of an infinitely large jigsaw puzzle, one that we mere humans could never solve. We forget that algorithms are now so powerful, they can put all those ‘bits’ together to come up with an eerily accurate profile of individual people. It’s how elections are now being manipulated, amongst other things.
      It will become a crime, one day, but not until something truly awful happens. That’s the pattern of human risk management. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

    • Yorgos KC

      😱😱😱
      (and I seriously mean the emojis)

      Liked by 2 people

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    I’m reminded of the old saw that says you’re not paranoid if they really are after you – which they are!

    That said, and since this is our forever home (which includes utilities, so not with you on this particular front), and I rarely get out of the apartment, much less the ‘campus’, and so far it’s mostly to doctors’ appointments, I don’t care any more. I’m pinned to the map. And, in the middle of the night, I use the app on the phone that regulates the heating and airconditioning so I don’t have to turn the lights on – wifi enabled, of course, and I’m very irritated when it is out of service. My own convenience seems far more important since my body no longer thermoregulates properly, and I can’t think or sleep outside a narrow comfort range…

    Liked by 4 people

    • acflory

      As I said to Mel, choice is the key. You know the risks but the benefits outweigh the potential harm. That’s a choice you’ve made and I wouldn’t dream of arguing with that. I make compromising choices too, just in different areas. The thing that worries me is that most people don’t make informed choices. They’re being mercilessly manipulated and don’t know it. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  • Jacqui Murray

    Not crazy at all–smart. I had to replace my thermostat and opted for one NOT connected to the internet. Darn–now I have to walk up to the device to check the temperature! Which always stays on its preset number. Same with my Generac generator–no internet connection. I was appalled when my niece said she didn’t care about privacy online. Anyone could know anything. Yikes! She will care someday.

    Stick with your beliefs, Meeka.

    Liked by 3 people

  • Dan Antion

    Good for you! You are not being paranoid. For an app that is going to monitor electricity usage at a fixed (I assume you’re not traveling in your home) location, geolocation is simply not necessary. The “free” service is their way of buying your data.

    Liked by 2 people

    • acflory

      Thanks, Dan! What you say makes perfect sense. I wonder what it’ll take before governments legislate to protect people’s right to their own data.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dan Antion

        There’s a bill sitting (gathering dust) in Congress. My understand is that it doesn’t solve all the problems, and may reduce some of the efforts by states like CA, but it would be good to see it move forward.

        Liked by 1 person

        • acflory

          Yes, we’ve heard of that bill even here. Apparently there’s cross party support for it, or at least /some/ support. I suspect both major parties got a fright when they realised they could be targetted by a foreign power thanks to the data mined from social media.
          I hope someone dusts off that bill and gets it through soon. The Wild Wild West is getting a bit too wild.

          Liked by 1 person

  • daleleelife101.blog

    Meeks, on occasion we monitor our electricity usage simply via logging into the online account we created with our energy retailer, in our case, Origin Energy. We can see hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and historical electricity usage and how much solar we send back to the grid.

    Liked by 3 people

  • davidprosser

    Well done for taking such a stand.
    Hugs

    Liked by 2 people

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