MPs warn of ‘chilling’ rise in baby monitors and smart speakers enabling domestic abuse
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Smart speakers, baby monitors and home security systems have been listed amongst devices named by MPs which are enabling the “chilling” rise of technology-facilitated domestic abuse. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has warned that on average each household has nine “smart” products which could be supporting abuse.
MPs have since said that the government must do more to tackle the situation after research found that smart devices were being used to “monitor, harass, coerce and control” victims by collecting both images and recordings.
Dame Caroline Dinenage, who chairs the committee said: “While the rising popularity of connected technology has brought undoubted benefits to everyday life, the flip side is the real risk some of these gadgets pose to privacy and personal safety online. In particular, the surge in use of devices such as smart home security systems, baby monitors, cameras and smart speakers to monitor, harass, coerce and control victims of domestic abuse is truly chilling.”
She also called for the police and criminal justice system to be “better equipped” to deal with the issue, whilst also calling for extra support for victims. Dame Caroline said: “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.”
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has been investigating the issue since May 2022, as it considered the potential benefits and harms of connected technologies, which included virtual assistants, such as Siri and Alex, as well as fitness tracking devices. The committee has estimated that by 2050 there will be 24 billion interconnected devices worldwide, with their use expected to rapidly increase in coming years.
The committee said that during the investigation, it heard evidence that the “vast majority” of domestic abuse cases now include some sort of cyber element, which includes the use of spyware. Perpetrators are now able monitor movements and collect photos and recordings of victims.
The group of MPs identified the risks to children, who are particularly in need of protection from abuse as well as having their data and personal information potentially misused. It has been considered that young people are also increasingly likely to interact with connected technology at home and in schools.
Dame Caroline Dinenage also said: “The government and Information Commissioner’s Office should make sure products used in schools and by young people at home have privacy settings that are intuitive for children and age-appropriate terms and conditions.”
Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, told the BBC that the onus should be on tech firms to address the problem. Jacobs said: “Too often, victims and survivors are expected to keep themselves safe from tech abuse, rather than the tech companies taking steps to prevent harm.
“While the Government has made good progress on some forms of tech abuse through the Online Safety Bill, they must ensure tech companies address all the tools that perpetrators use, including smart home devices.”
In March 2022, a cross-party Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan was published which revealed that more than £230m of funding was provided to prevent offending, as well as pursuing perpetrators and supporting victims.