Written by Andrew McAuliffe-Shave

In the digital age, smart technology has revolutionised the way we interact with the world around us. These innovative devices have brought convenience and efficiency into our lives, but for some, they have also become insidious tools of control and manipulation. For those trapped in domestic abusive relationships, smart technology poses grave dangers that go far beyond mere inconvenience.

In the confines of an abusive home, smart technology can act as an invisible adversary, enabling abusers to exercise their power and maintain dominance over their victims. As more devices become interconnected through the Internet of Things (IoT), abusers find new avenues to exploit these technologies for their sinister purposes.

One of the most alarming aspects is how IoT devices can be used for surveillance. Smart home security cameras, for instance, can be easily manipulated by the abuser to monitor the victim's every move, invading their privacy and instilling fear. Internet-connected voice assistants can become yet another instrument of abuse, with perpetrators using them to listen in on conversations or control household appliances in a menacing display of power. Moreover, abusers may take advantage of location tracking features on smartphones and other devices to monitor the victim's movements, making it challenging for them to escape or seek help discreetly. The constant fear of being tracked adds to the psychological torment that victims endure daily.

Social media platforms and messaging apps can also be double-edged swords. Abusers may use them to isolate their victims, cut them off from friends and family, and spread harmful rumours or manipulate online interactions. These actions further weaken the victim's support system and amplify their vulnerability

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The increasing prevalence of smart home automation further complicates matters. Abusers can remotely control locks, lights, and thermostats, creating an atmosphere of constant surveillance and intimidation. The victim's home, the one place they should feel safe, becomes a digital prison. Breaking free from such a toxic environment can be daunting. Even if the victim manages to physically leave, the abuser's access to smart devices might persist, perpetuating emotional abuse and stalking from a distance.

Recognising the dangers of smart technology in abusive relationships is crucial for developing strategies to protect victims. Companies must prioritise user safety, implementing robust security measures to prevent unauthorised access to smart devices. Public awareness campaigns should emphasise the potential risks of technology misuse and educate victims on how to safeguard their digital presence. The issues have been discussed in parliament this month with the term “technology-facilitated abuse” being the definition used.

Furthermore, authorities must adapt to the digital dimension of domestic abuse, investigating cases involving smart technology misuse and providing appropriate resources and support for victims. The figures are staggering already.

Coco Khan, writer for The Guardian, states – “Between 2018 and 2022, the domestic violence charity Refuge saw an increase of 258% in the number of survivors supported by their tech abuse team. The problem is, despite the lightspeed adoption of smart tech, making sure it’s safe and fit for purpose hasn’t kept the same pace. Until recently, there was no legal requirement for a smart product to be secure at all – mandatory safety tests were much more concerned with things like electrical fires – and it was left to manufacturers to mark their own homework when deciding if security was something they wanted to invest in. Some did, some didn’t.”

In this brave new world, the benefits of smart technology should never come at the cost of human safety and well-being. By raising awareness, advocating for stronger safeguards, and supporting victims, we can work towards harnessing technology for a brighter, safer future, free from the unseen shackles of abuse.

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