Recently, it has come to light that smart home technology is yet another avenue for abusers to harass their victims. Smart home technology, including appliances like air conditioners and features like home monitoring systems, is undeniably a groundbreaking innovation. It allows and encourages homeowners to efficiently customize their homes according to their preferences.
Furthermore, this technology allows for people to access their homes remotely through the internet or their phones. What was intended to cater towards everyday comfort, though, is prone to abuse, with accounts of ex-partners manipulating the lights, thermostats, and locks in the homes of victims.
Tampering with smart technology may initially come across as innocuous or as a mere inconvenience more than abuse or stalking. However, in an intimate relationship, this behavior can be indicative of intentions that seek to incite fear and force compliance.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline clearly defines an abusive relationship as one that circles around control and power, in which an abuser exhibits certain behaviors that allow them to maintain control and power over their partner. It has been reported that attempting to sever the abuser’s ties to a home’s smart technology could escalate the situation.
Meanwhile, language for restraining orders do not yet include this type of abuse. The unpredictability of the situation and the distance that the abuser can maintain is especially alarming in these cases.
This phenomenon seems diagnostic of an even larger issue that plagues us– the misuse of technological advancements.
Harassment through smart technology is unfortunately just another manifestation of abuse that echoes the tendencies underlying cyberstalking and digital abuse.
Multiple people, who all requested to be unnamed, shared with Blend their respective stories of digital abuse and harassment.
One woman described how her ex would look through her phone. She believes that his own insecurities and their status of long distance created a lack of trust.
She recounted a time when he asked her to delete 30 of her male friends from her Facebook friends list. When she refused, he took her phone while she was away in the bathroom and deleted the friends himself. This kind of invasion of privacy was common in their relationship.
“I always felt really stressed in that I always had to do things his way to avoid fights. I felt really restricted. At one point, it felt like I was chasing my friends away for him,” she explained.
“It got really lonely. All of my friends kept telling me to stop being in this relationship but I couldn’t for a long time.”
The next woman’s story begins with a man who stopped her in the street and asked for her number. “I felt pressured so I gave my number to him. But he kept texting me and calling me even after I told him to please stop,” she said.
She eventually changed her number because he would call her at least five times a day from different numbers. Shortly after, however, he found her on both Facebook and LinkedIn.
“I blocked him on those accounts but he showed up at my workplace from the information he had already seen. I was extremely freaked out that he would go to these lengths.
The building banned him and he hasn’t tried to contact me ever since, but I still feel unsafe.”
Another woman recalls her ex-boyfriend’s online harassment following their break-up. “Whenever I blocked him on one platform, he would find another way to contact me. He once emailed me, and he liked my Venmo payment another time,” she said.
“Once, he knew I was in Miami and he was mad that I didn’t tell him. How did he even know I was there?” She shared that she primarily felt unsafe and that even years later, she still feels this way.
“I feel like if I ever see him, he would sexually assault me.”
Alternatively, one man shared how his ex-girlfriend created a fake Instagram account to talk to his current girlfriend.
“[My ex] had conversations with my girlfriend about what she posted, but it quickly turned into unsolicited insults about me and her. It wasn’t until later that we found out it was my ex’s account. My girlfriend obviously blocked that account but she still gets follow requests from other suspicious accounts.
I want to say nothing will happen but if I’m being honest, I’m a little scared for my girlfriend. I feel really bad about everything.”
These stories illustrate that abuse and stalking, even from a distance, can produce an immediate sense of danger.
Smart home technology will continue to grow in popularity. The number of domestic abuse victims through smart technology may concurrently increase, making awareness and preparedness of the utmost importance.