One in four women are said to experience abuse in their lifetime and tech is beginning to play a larger role in that cycle of violence.
Tech abuse or cyber violence are terms that have been coined to express the concept of tech assisted domestic violence. While cybersecurity, on the surface, seems to be an issue that has online-related consequences, because IoT devices work more significantly in the “real” world, they have a greater potential to be utilized for the purposes of physical intimidation and abuse.
Online bullying is already a significant problem and the invasive feeling of being hacked or doxxed by malefactors or aggressive abusers is bad enough. While these can have deep emotional effects, if abusers have control of IoT devices the abuse can turn distinctly physical. People who mean to cause harm can use IoT devices to spy on a victim, to lock and unlock their house and car, and even to change the temperature in their house or shower. They can order items or cancel them, and wreak havoc on finances. And because IoT devices are able to learn patterns and preferences it means they can be privy to details that expose victims and survivors to their abusers even after they have escaped a violent relationship.
In one story, a survivor found herself at the mercy of an abusive partner that worked in tech. He browbeat her to say that she was too incompetent to use the IoT devices in their home and then used that dominance to control her life in ways that she never anticipated including watching her come and go via nest, and listening in to her conversations. Even when she escaped the abusive relationship, the reach of tech for her abuser lingered. In other reports, women have discovered front door codes being changed and the air conditioner being randomly turned on and off along with other disturbing phenomenon.
The UK based women’s advocacy charity REFUGE in partnership with digital watchdogs, Avast performed a study that showed that around 46% of women are unable to identify a device that makes them vulnerable to stalking or abuse and that two-thirds of women did not know how to find resources to help them with device security. More troubling is their findings of close to 30% of women reporting being coerced or tricked into giving abusive partners their passwords.
Smart home technology is a way that abusers can exert significant power and control in ways that elude current legal statutes. Even though this technology is pervasive, because the tech is not widely understood, the idea that someone is manipulating your own home against you or that someone might be monitoring your conversations and movements can come out to look like paranoia to law enforcement. One woman who spoke to the New York Times realized that her abusive partner was using tech exclusively to dominate every part of her life down to what she was allowed to watch on television and what music she could listen to.
While IoT devices are designed to create added convenience, there are always ways that new technology can be exploited by those who wish to do harm. It is crucial that those that are vulnerable understand how to protect themselves and that those that have the ability to prosecute crimes are prepared to understand how tech abuse can constitute illegal activity.
Bowles, N. (2018, June 23). Thermostats, locks and lights: Digital Tools of domestic abuse. The New York Times. Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/technology/smart-home-devices-domestic-abuse.html.
California Law Review’s tweet – “in “A domestic violence dystopia: Abuse via the internet of things and remedies under current law,” Madison Lo (@berkeleylaw ’21) explores and critiques the available legal remedies in domestic violence situations related to internet of things devices. “. Trendsmap. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.trendsmap.com/twitter/tweet/1371492074852343813.
Here are the top 10 IOT devices reported by domestic abuse victims. Avast. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://blog.avast.com/top-iot-devices-reported-by-abuse-victims-avast.
IOT cybersecurity: More than stranger danger. IOT Cybersecurity: More Than Stranger Danger. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2021, from https://www.gtlaw.com.au/insights/iot-cybersecurity-more-stranger-danger.