Abusive partners use home technology to stalk and abuse women, study shows

“We have already supported 920 survivors this year who had suffered some form of technological abuse, from online harassment, stolen online identities, hacking, spoofing, revenge pornography , to stalking and surveillance.

“In addition to protecting survivors, our work focuses on empowering them to use technology safely in the future and avoid further isolation, a frequent consequence of domestic abuse.”

Dr Leonie Tanczer, who led UCL’s study at its Petras Internet of Things (IoT) research hub, said abusers were moving on from sending barrages of text messages, stalking movements by GPS and registering fake social media accounts. She said many take advantage of in-depth knowledge about the victim’s behaviour and digital preferences.

The study resulted in a cybersecurity resource guide for abuse survivors targeted through smart gadgets.

Dr Tanczer said: “Because IoT devices collect so much data and we have so many different accounts and shared passwords, this exacerbates the forms of abuse we see. If someone was to suspect something fishy was going on in their home, our guide tells them how to check specific devices and features, physically and online.”

She added: “With smart home devices you have the ability to know far more granular data about the person’s habits, when they leave, and what services they are using.

“Victims say to charities, ‘I think I’m going mad, I think someone is listening to me or why does (my partner) always know where I am and what I’m doing. (The abuser) can video and audio record, there are sensors that can track humidity levels, heat levels and preferences.”

Adam Simon, chairman of the Smart Homes & Building Association Group, said manufacturers have a duty to build security into their devices, and retailers should tell customers how to protect themselves when they buy devices.

He added: “We advise consumers to take responsibility for their own security by ensuring that they put in place effective password protection.”

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