Energy management research using Home Assistant

Two weeks ago we hosted the State of the Open Home. It included a presentation by Prof. Michael Kane and Maharsi Pathak from the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University.

They presented about their research into lowering grid demand by reducing thermostat temperatures. They want to learn when and why a reduced temperature is too uncomfortable causing tenants to become thermally frustrated and reverting the reduction.

With Home Assistant we want every home to be about privacy, choice and durability and it’s how we built Home Assistant. Because we believe in choice, all data in Home Assistant is accessible and one can extend or built on top of our platform.

This architecture made it possible for Prof. Kane to create a custom version of Home Assistant for his research that gathers data about all devices, surveys users based on changes to devices and exports all this data back to their research lab. For this they leverage device integrations, added a custom survey feature to the UI and push notifications from the Home Assistant companion app to draw the user's attention to the surveys.

But what makes me extra happy is that their research is focusing on home energy management. This has been a feature we added to Home Assistant in 2020 as our way to help tackle the climate crisis. It makes me proud to see that we are able to help researchers do their work and we hope to see more of this. We’re also looking forward to collaborating with Prof. Kane on using his research to improve Home Assistant.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.home-assistant.io/blog/2021/12/28/northeastern-university-home-energy-management/
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This post makes it seem as though my data from my thermostats was being shared with the research group without my permission, and that’s not cool. I don’t really care if it was for the greater good, or how anonymized the data was, I do not want data from my device shared.

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If you didn’t participate in the survey your data was not accessible (emphasis mine):

It’s not cool to leverage any data from or about my device integrations in any way without my permission.

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I’ll make this as plain as I can:

You shared nothing unless you opted in.

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Then what exactly did you mean by ‘leverage our device integrations’ ?

You didn’t qualify it by first saying, if you opted-in, they leveraged information from your device integrations, you went right into device integrations, which makes me strongly suspect exactly what I thought was happening IS happening, and other people are making those decisions based on what they feel is ‘a greater good’.

Only people that participated in their experiment and ran their customized version of Home Assistant shared their data. Nothing in Home Assistant shares any data.

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I can see how some people may misinterpret who’s data was shared. I did a double take on first pass read.

Might be worth adding a clarifying edit as it may be distracting from the awesome topic and work?

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I’ve updated the text to emphasize it’s a customized version.

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Christ dude, I think you’re overreacting a bit.
A) It’s Opt-in and B) It’s not Facebook or something!

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Be carefully here. Privacy is the #1 mentioned aspect of homeassistant. The text is very confusing and avoids clearly stating how privacy was kept for homeassistant users in general.
The not-so-privacy developed version is still called ‘homeassistant’, only distinguished by the word ‘custom’.
Am also afraid of scope creep… Hard for me to keep track, especially since this version uses the same product name.

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Let’s all put down the pitchforks and take a step back for a moment.

Before something becomes misinterpreted, it’s important to remember that this was research, professional research, done for a university, for a study that will most likely either be published or support published work.

Therefore it must follow the ethical requirements of their school, their fellows, and the scientific community in general. Meaning…consent. Guaranteed, hard–copy, legally binding and thoroughly considered understanding of what your rights are, and what they are doing with your participation.

As @Pau1Phi11ips mentioned above, “it’s not Facebook”, sneaking ownership of your firstborn into their ToS, or demanding Prima Nocta because you stumbled into their advertising empire.

If you didn’t sign off to be involved in their study, your data is not involved. Unless you habitually sign legal rights away without noticing…

It doesn’t matter who is doing the research, how professional they are, and what greater good anyone thought they were serving, my data should only be shared if I have explicitly opted-in. As Covid has shown the people in charge have no problem sharing sharing other peoples private data, and location history if they feel it’s serving a greater good. It’s extremely clear from the wording that the author of this update prioritizes other things above personal privacy, which is why it wasn’t mentioned in the original post and was only added as an afterthought when I complained.

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Sounds like a cool way of gathering that data and using the tools built by the community to make it easier for research to be done. I’d be interested in seeing the existing analytics options built into HA expanded some day to allow sending anonymized data on energy use and climate info (or other topics of interest) on an opt-in basis to try to get bigger sample sizes for research like this.

For those concerned about your data, it was pretty clear reading this (post-edit) that unless you were running the researchers’ custom code that you would have had to install that you weren’t sending your data to them.

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You’re 100% wrong. You scanned a blog post, didn’t watch the embedded presentation and then scream fire in the comments based on incorrect assumptions. I updated the blog post to avoid more people jumping to incorrect conclusions.

Now closing this topic as it’s holidays and we all got better things to do.

Thanks for ruining it.

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