One woman did not realize she was in an abusive relationship. For years, she endured her husband’s controlling nature. He limited her finances, called her a bad mother, and controlled how much freedom she had on a day-to-day basis. Then, he installed cameras and smart speakers around the home to stalk his wife’s every movement while he was out of the house.
“It was like a little webcam,” said Jane (not her real name). “He said he wanted to know the children were OK when he went to work, but I know he used it to check on my whereabouts, to see if I was home. He said it was for the children’s safety.”
After Jane produced three children for the man, he trapped her in the house, refusing to let her return to work. Instead, she was stuck in the home and watched as the camera followed her from room to room. She knew that her husband was controlling it from his phone, which meant he was watching her at all times even though he was not at the house.
When he installed the Ring doorbell, he cinched control over his wife.
“He used it to see who was coming in and out of the house,” Jane said. “He would get alerts on his phone the moment I left or came in. He used it to track my movements. I felt absolutely violated, and my anxiety went up day by day. It really messes with your mental state.”
A few months ago, Jane was physically abused by her husband. This was the turning point after years of emotional and verbal abuse. She called the police and reported the domestic crime.
When Jane, 37, was put into contact with The Dash charity (a group that helps victims of domestic violence and abuse), she was told to search the home for smart devices her husband might have planted.
Now, The Dash and Refuge, another domestic abuse nonprofit, report that 70 percent of people report tech-related abuse in their abusive relationship. While this might have involved aggressive text messages a few years ago, it now includes smart speakers and smart doorbells.
Jane Keeper, Refuge’s director of operations, said, “Today we are working with 1,594 women who are experiencing tech abuse. Often, the victim is experiencing coercive control, and the abuser will only allow her to leave the house for a set amount of time.
“Now, even if the abuser is not in the home, he can say: ‘I know that route to school [to collect children] should only take 16 minutes, so why did it take you 23 minutes? Where were you?’ It can completely track and monitor you. That can put real pressure and anxiety on the victim.”
Security experts fear for the lives and safety of domestic abuse victims.
“Smart devices are usually shorthand for surveillance products,” said Silkie Carlo, of the civil liberties organization Big Brother Watch. “They risk building a world of constant, ambient monitoring of our private lives. The move by prosecutors to collect more and more data from smart devices could easily be the start of a slippery slope where our phones really are a policeman in our pockets.”
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