Smart home technology being turned into weapons for domestic abuse

Shelters and organizations, particularly in Bay Area, are seeing increasing evidence of the devices' unintended consequences

Jun.June 24, 2018 01:50 PM
(Credit: Pixabay)

Technology designed to make home life easier is increasingly being wielded by domestic abusers.

Shelters, particularly in the Bay Area, have documented an increasing number of cases where home security systems, thermostats, music systems and lights–all controlled with the tap of a smart phone–have been used by one spouse to torment the other, according to the New York Times.

Muneerah Budhwani of National Domestic Violence Hotline recounts beginning to receive an number of calls last winter where callers described how “abusers were monitoring and controlling them remotely through the smart home appliances and the smart home system.” Examples include,repeatedly ringing a doorbell, blasting music or turning home temperatures up to extreme levels from a distance.

Victims of this technological abuse were either unable to regain control of their smart devices or–for those still living with their abusers–chose not to due to threats of escalating violence. Organizations who assist survivors of abuse told the Times that some victims end up in psychiatric holds as a result of this kind of abuse as professionals have not believed that household technology could be used in this way. Police and other professionals say the use of technology in abusive relationships is not surprising.

“It makes complete sense knowing what I know about the psychology of domestic violence suspects. Domestic violence is largely about control — people think of physical violence but there’s emotional violence, too,” said Palo Alto police captain Zach Perron to the Times.

A McKinsey report found that about 29 million homes use some kind of smart technology and estimated the adoption rate was around 30 percent per year. [NYT]Erin Hudson

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