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How smart speakers, fitness trackers and even baby monitors are being used by domestic abusers

Smart speakers are among the devices being used to enable domestic abuse.
Smart speakers are among the devices being used to enable domestic abuse. Copyright AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File
Copyright AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File
By Scott Reid
Published on Updated
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A UK Parliament report found that devices are being used to "monitor, harass, coerce and control" victims by collecting recordings and images.

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Smart technology like fitness trackers, smart speakers, baby monitors, and even Netflix accounts are being used by domestic abusers to control their victims.

The findings of the UK Parliament's Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, published in a report on Monday, have been described by the committee's chair, Dame Caroline Dinenage, as "truly chilling". 

"The Government must make it a priority to work with manufacturers to tackle this technology-facilitated abuse, which is only going to get worse in the future," she added.

The committee found the vast majority of domestic abuse cases now feature what the committee calls "some sort of cyber element". That includes the use of spyware, people monitoring movements and collecting recordings and images of others. 

"Perpetrators quite often set up a host of different devices in the home," Jessica Eagleton, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the charity Refuge, told the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill Committee. 

"Recently, we supported a woman whose former partner had bought a whole host of devices, including smart cameras, a smart doorbell, a smart thermostat - all those kinds of things. She and her child felt like they were constantly being monitored; they talked about how exhausted they were by that constant surveillance".

Giving away locations

Refuge also reported that "devices gifted to children are used to continue exerting control post-separation and can enable the perpetrator to access audio-visual information and to track the address of the new location the survivor has fled to".

Concern was also raised at the dangers of victims unwittingly giving away their locations by leaving their devices and accounts connected. 

"People now need to think, 'If I go into a refuge, is my smartwatch still connected with my device," Dr Leonie Tanczer of University College London said. 

"Interestingly, people have found that women are often detected in the refuge through their Netflix account because they forget that they are still connected when they log in at the refuge," she added.

The committee acknowledged that there was no "silver bullet" for dealing with tech abuse, but concluded: "The Government can take more steps to tackle it by improving the criminal justice response, raising public awareness and convening industry to ensure manufacturers and distributors are mitigating risks through product design".

A UK government spokesperson said: "Domestic abuse is a despicable crime and one which this government is determined to tackle.

"That is why we published the cross-government tackling domestic abuse plan in March 2022 and are investing over £230 million [€267 million] of funding to prevent offending, support victims and pursue perpetrators".

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