Nielsen Media Research’s well-known television monitoring devices may have a rather creepy competitor. New research from university scientists in Germany have discovered that it’s possible to figure out what programs a household is watching, even if it’s not a live broadcast, by analyzing data collected by unmodified smart electricity meters.

So far this is all theoretical, but the researchers believe it proves a need to protect consumers by measures like having the meters report less frequently. The research is part of the DaPriM data privacy project, which is funded by the German government, and was inspired by the previously proven ability to determine whether a household used a stove, burners or a microwave to cook dinner.

Researchers at the Münster University of Applied Sciences experimented with data from a standard EasyMeter smart meter installed in a normal home. This type of meter sends usage data to the utility company’s servers every two seconds, resulting in enough data to extract and analyze patterns that show what’s on TV.

Thanks to Slashdot for the tip.

Related links:

DaPriM (in German) –

The H (in association with heise online) –

Photo by flickr user Thomas Leuthard, used under Creative Commons license