In today’s world, we are more connected than ever. Our smartphones give us unlimited access to nearly everything: basic phone calls and texts, social media, banking, GPS, online shopping, and more. Whatever you need, there is probably an app for it. And now that many of us have been spending more time at home due to COVID-19, we are exploring new options to keep us connected through screens, such as Zoom or telehealth services.
Over the last 10 years, technology has been slowly moving beyond our phone or computer screens. Now, it lives in our homes, vehicles and even children’s toys. Technology is evolving with us, where its goal is to make our lives easier and more seamless. However, there are many ways that tech can be misused, especially by abusers who are using it to gain and keep power and control over a current or former intimate partner. It is important to consider your personal safety when using new technology or devices.
In 2017, 29 million homes in the United States had some smart technology, according to a report by McKinsey, which estimated that the number was growing by 31% a year. Smart technology is commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).
The Internet of Things refers to devices connected to each other and to a device or app that can control them. Devices may be connected through the internet, Bluetooth (short-range wireless transmission) or other means, making them practical tools that can improve quality of life. Once connected, companies often are able to collect and share data about how people are using their devices, and about their environment, activity and interests.
IoT devices range from basic, everyday items (health trackers, such as a FitBit) to more advanced smart home products (Nest thermostat). Here is a quick list:
- Smart Appliances: Speakers, home assistants (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Home), kitchen appliances, TVs, etc.
- Smart Home Systems: Doorbells, thermostats, lights, locks, security cameras, baby monitors, etc.
- Wearable Items: Health trackers (e.g., FitBit), medical devices (e.g., pacemakers), sleep trackers, eyeglasses, watches, panic buttons, mood sensors, clothing, etc.
- Toys/Gaming Systems: Stuffed animals (e.g., Talkie), robots (e.g., Artie 3000) and coding game sets (e.g., Harry Potter Kano kit).
It is important to keep in mind that many connected devices are registered to a single account holder, who has ownership of the device. For devices in a home with two partners, access to the device may be shared through controls. If the partners in the household break up and the abusive partner has ownership rights, they can maintain control of the IoT device while outside of the home.
An abuser having access to IoT devices can enable them to scare a victim, even when they are not under the same roof. For abusers, the goal is to both intimidate and confuse the victim by controlling everyday objects in the home. They can achieve this goal by watching, listening or threatening the victim.
For example, smart home systems can be controlled remotely by an app. If a victim is home alone, the abuser can adjust the thermostat to extremely hot or cold temperatures, or turn the lights on and off in the middle of the night. This is referred to as gaslighting – where the goal is to trick the victim into questioning what’s real and what’s not.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse through technology or otherwise, help is available. During this time, if it is safe for you, we encourage you to reach out to a trusted person or an advocate. At the national level, anyone may contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1 (800) 799-7233 or www.thehotline.org or view TechSafety.org’s Technology Safety and Privacy Toolkit. Statewide resources in Ohio include the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) 24-Hour Local Hotline at (614) 267-7020 and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network (ODVN) at 1 (800) 934-9840. For local assistance in Franklin County, please reach out to Columbus City Attorney’s Domestic Violence and Stalking Unit.
- Article from TechSafety.org – “Evidence Collection Series, Internet of Things”
- National Stalking Resource Center
- Article from The National Domestic Violence Hotline – “Staying Safe During COVID-19″