Domestic abusers are using smart home technology to exert power over and confuse their victims, according to a report in the New York Times.
While the benefits of smart home technology and the connected home are undeniable and often lauded, there is a dark side to these devices that allow them to be used as a tool of power by unscrupulous persons.
There have been increasing reports of domestic abuse victims being terrorized by their abusive partners operating smart home devices remotely and without their knowledge.
It sounds relatively harmless at first glance, but having the thermostat turned up to 100° without you touching it, lights randomly turning on and off at all hours of the day and night, the passcode to your front door changing every single day for seemingly no reason, and even loud music being blasted out of smart speakers with no warning, is a recipe for terror, confusion and the uncomfortable feeling that you’re going crazy.
That’s exactly the atmosphere that abusers are trying to create, and smart home devices allow them to do this subtly and with little footprint.
Very often, one member of the household will assume control over the domestic utilities and devices which leaves the other person in the dark and with little technical know-how on how to work and manage this technology. This is particularly pronounced when it comes to smart tech: most devices are controlled via apps that can be managed remotely — that means an abusive partner can control your home environment without even having to step foot in your house.
The Times noted that the victims they spoke to for this report were all women — despite the fact that both men and women report significant levels of general domestic abuse (a third of women and a quarter of men are purported to be victims of domestic violence or stalking by a partner).
In these cases, the male abusers were in charge of the smart home devices and the female victims had no idea how to manage and change accounts for these devices, meaning that this abuse could continue even once the abuser has left the house.
Social workers and abuse activists are now urging for everyone to become clued up on smart home technology if it’s installed in your home and to be able to operate and manage it yourself — don’t let smart home devices become just another weapon of your abusive partner.
They are also campaigning for judges to recognize the threat of this technology in such partnerships and to extend restraining orders to cover all connected technology, known and unknown by the victim, to help stamp out this particular emotional abuse.