Baby monitors and smart speakers enabling abuse, say MPs

Fitness trackers, home security systems and baby monitors are among the devices that MPs warn are enabling the growing issue of tech-enabled domestic abuse.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee says there are on average nine such “smart” products in UK homes. It found they were being used to “monitor, harass, coerce and control” victims by collecting recordings and images. The MPs say the government must tackle the situation.

“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,” said Dame Caroline Dinenage, who chairs the committee. “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,” she added.

The committee has been investigating the issue since May 2022, considering the potential benefit and harms of connected technology, other examples of which include smart speakers and virtual assistants. Widely present across the UK at present, their use is expected to mushroom in the coming years - the committee estimates that by 2050 there will be 24 billion interconnected devices worldwide.

During its investigation, the committee says it heard evidence that the “vast majority” of domestic abuse cases now feature some sort of cyber element, including the use of spyware, and perpetrators monitoring movements and collecting recordings and photos of victims and survivors. It identified children as being particularly in need of protection, not just from abuse but from having their data and personal information harvested and potentially misused, especially as young people are considered more likely to use smart devices.

“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,” Dame Caroline said.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, agreed that the onus should be on tech firms to address the problem. “Too often, victims and survivors are expected to keep themselves safe from tech abuse, rather than tech companies taking steps to prevent harm,” she said. “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.”

Sadly, governments and well-meaning agencies will always be lagging behind ill-intentioned and devious perpetrators but any effort from the former is to be encouraged and applauded.


Surely such devices have an off switch :man_shrugging:

Surely the point of “smart devices” is that they are always “ON” … :man_shrugging:

If that is the case, then little wonder so much snooping etc takes place when these smart enabled articles are left permanently engaged. Everything except fridges & freezers are permanently on when not attended and none are so called smart appliances. Even my wifi goes off when I retire to bed and then switched back on when I rise. Some years back a wifi modem started smoking, so ever since I’ve been cautious about leaving it permanently on.

Should you turn your router off at night? |.

Should You Turn Your Wi-Fi Off When It’s Not In Use?

‘Whether to turn off your Wi-Fi when not in use depends on a few factors, such as energy consumption, security, convenience, and interference,’ says Jeremy. ‘Turning off your Wi-Fi can reduce energy consumption, minimize security risks, and reduce interference with other networks.’ But it may be more convenient to leave it on if you frequently use it, or have devices that connect to it automatically.

What Are The Potential Problems Of Turning Wi-Fi Off At Night?

On the flip side, Robert Johnson, the senior director of merchandising at Coast Appliances argues that it’s better to leave your Wi-Fi on overnight given that routers a small amount of energy (around 2 to 20 watts, depending on the model). He also emphasizes that turning off your router overnight may mean the device misses important automatic software updates.

This could affect its stability, speed, and overall performance, and stresses the internal parts due to temperature and power changes. Any router-connected devices, such as a home security system, may also experience update and optimization delays. So the bottom line is it won’t save much energy, could affect WiFi speeds, and potentially decrease the lifespan of your broadband.

So my router’s permanently on … as are most connectible devices, e.g. phones but not TVs, STBs and PCs, which, nevertheless, are left plugged into the electrical supply.

Currently, I have no requirement for fitness trackers, smart speakers or baby monitors but home security systems are on my list … :slightly_smiling_face:

I don’t turn the Wi-Fi off night … my TV’s are online along with smart heating ,lighting, security and echo dot.

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How would tech companies stop the poor behavior without eliminating the good uses? For instance, I’ve seen multiple instances of child abuse caught on hidden cameras because the abuser didn’t know they were being recorded. That’s a benefit of a hidden camera. Those same cameras can also be used to spy on children. That’s a bad use of cameras.

How would the tech change to allow the good but eliminate the bad?

If your ‘home security’ relies on the internet, how does the protection work during a power failure or an area internet outage?

Those that abuse will do so regardless of any monitoring device.

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No matter what there’s always someone abusing something, whether it be cars ,bikes , property, animals ,people ,food the list is endless …

How would millions of devices work during a power failure or an area internet outage?

The research, which maps changing possessions in UK homes, finds the average number of connected appliances per UK home has increased by 26% in the last three years. A similar study released by the insurer in January 2017, revealed UK homes typically housed 8.2 such devices.

Unsurprisingly, the presence of children increases the number further. A home with three children now typically hosts 15.4 internet-enabled items.

The tally includes computers, tablets, phones, games consoles, smart TVs and other connected devices such as security cameras and remotely-operated thermostats.

Just this laptop at my property…The cameras are closed circuit and don’t rely on the internet.

But do they rely on mains electricity?

That would depend if they had a back-up power supply. My alarm system has a float charged battery supply aka UPS.

The laptop needs charging at the end of a session, but yes, the cameras and alarms do need mains electricity Omah…

It’s unlikely that 25m+ households in the UK have a back-up power supply for any of their devices.

So when the brown stuff hits the fan, it’s likely that it won’t be going anywhere…No power!

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I guess that is correct, but only one household concerns me and that is mine. I also have 3hr emergency lighting that is automatic during a power failure as is the two person/wheelchair lift. I can remember back to the times when the country was subjected to rolling power disconnections and the three day week, so I have added as many back-up systems as feasible just in case of a power failure.

I expected no less.

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I agree with the findings in the Report of the Parliamentary Committee -

As the Summary says,

“Connected tech can have a range of benefits, including improved efficiency, safety, security and health, environmental benefits and for entertainment. However, there are also a range of risks and harms associated with their use, including a loss of privacy, operational unpredictability and unfairness, online safety concerns and broadening patterns of domestic abuse”

If someone is in an abusive / controlling relationship or is a vulnerable child, it’s not just a matter of “switching off the tech” - they may not be in a position to do that - they may not even be aware that certain devices are monitoring their movements.

The Charity, Refuge, reported that “devices gifted to children” are used to continue exerting control, post-separation. The abuser sets up the monitoring before giving the device to their child, which may enable the abuser to access audio-visual information and to track the address of the new location the abuse survivor and family has fled to”.
They have also found that women are often detected in the refuge through their Netflix account because they forget that they are still connected when they log in at the refuge.

These may sound like obvious things to check to a tech-savvy person but not everybody is tech-savvy.

As the Parliamentary Committee noted -
“Our inquiry also explored the role of connected devices in broadening and exacerbating patterns of domestic abuse. We have found that tech abuse is becoming increasingly common. While there is no “silver bullet” for dealing with tech abuse, the Government can take more steps to tackle it by improving the criminal justice response, raising public awareness and convening industry to ensure manufacturers and distributors are mitigating risks through product design.

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