Updated Everyone's favourite advertising company, Google, has today announced the UK roll out of its "PowerMeter" home-electricity-consumption cloud service. The idea is that users of certain home 'leccy meters will for some reason read them via Google's servers, rather than using the online services that come with the meters.
Google's two UK "partners" are first:utility, a small energy-trading firm which offers free smart meters to customers on one of its tariffs, and AlertMe, a hardware maker which sells a sensor that clips onto existing meters and connects to a home broadband connection. In both cases, users are able to read full electricity usage data on company servers.
Now, however, such customers can also see the information on their iGoogle homepage if they so choose. Any user of Google online services - eg GMail - has such a homepage, even if they never normally look at it.
There are other ways to view one's home electricity consumption online - it is quite possible for the tech-savvy to put meter data on servers running on their own equipment, and so avoid disclosing the information to companies who might use it to make money.
There will also soon be competition for Google from Microsoft, whose Hohm kit is in US beta. Hohm will monitor gas usage as well as 'leccy, potentially an attractive feature for UK customers, who typically use more kilowatt-hours of gas than they do of electricity.
Google insists that PowerMeter is "a project of Google.org, Google's philanthropic arm, which aspires to leverage the power of information and technology to address global challenges". As such it would have nothing to do with ad revenues, though of course the iGoogle page - possibly now a bit more attractive, having been fattened-up with PowerMeter info - tends to direct user eyeballs towards money-making search results.
At the moment, Google keeps a PowerMeter user's data compartmented. However Jens Redmer, a Google business development executive (not a Google.org person) tells the Guardian of future social-network-type aspirations:
"In the future, one new feature could be friendly competition – why can't I challenge my friends to say I'll save 10% over a year, and then trigger alerts when they're falling behind, so I could ping them to encourage them?"
AlertMe tells the Reg that its relationship with Google "is not a paid-for partnership", perhaps suggesting a sad lack of commercial acumen at the company, and confirmed that customers had to opt-in before Google could access their data.
As for first:utility, they confirm that their customers must also opt-in before Google can get its mitts on their data. On the question of revenue we're still waiting on an answer - we'll update this as soon as we have it. ®
first:utility have now been in touch to say that Google isn't paying for access to its customers' information either. Slick work by the ads colossus.