People who help domestic abuse survivors say that they are facing an epidemic of women whose abusers are torturing them by breaking into their home smart devices, gaslighting them by changing their thermostat settings, locking them out of their homes, spying on them through their cameras.
The abusers are often ex-partners who retain authentication passwords that allow them to access the IoT devices after a breakup.
Many of the women facing this abuse are wealthy and well-off (domestic abuse affects people of all incomes, but wealthier people are more likely to own these gadgets). In interviews with the NYT, survivors called it "jungle warfare" and "asymmetric warfare," likening their ex-partners to guerrilla fighters attacking in secret.
Some women have been assessed for mental health issues because their stories sounded like paranoid delusions. My colleague Eva Galperin from the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out that for many of the women, the devices that are being used to torment them also connect them to the wider world, and they are loathe to further isolate themselves while they're in such difficult straits.
Muneerah Budhwani, who takes calls at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said she started hearing stories about smart homes in abuse situations last winter. “Callers have said the abusers were monitoring and controlling them remotely through the smart home appliances and the smart home system,” she said.
Graciela Rodriguez, who runs a 30-bed emergency shelter at the Center for Domestic Peace in San Rafael, Calif., said some people had recently come in with tales of “the crazy-making things” like thermostats suddenly kicking up to 100 degrees or smart speakers turning on blasting music.
“They feel like they’re losing control of their home,” she said. “After they spend a few days here, they realize they were being abused.”
Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital Tools of Domestic Abuse [Nellie Bowles/New York Times]
(Image: Cryteria, CC-BY)