Baby monitors and smart speakers enabling abuse, say MPs

Posted: 7th August 2023

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.

Dame Caroline also called for the police and criminal justice system to be better equipped to deal with the problem, and for victims to be provided with extra support.

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.”

A Government spokesperson said domestic abuse was a “despicable crime” ministers were “determined to tackle”. They pointed to the cross-party Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan published in March 2022, and more than £230m of funding provided to prevent offending, support victims and pursue perpetrators.

“We will introduce world-leading rules next year to bolster cyber-security standards across devices, protecting individual privacy and security, and our Online Safety Bill will become law in a matter of months – making the UK the safest place in the world to be online,” they added.

Source: BBC News
Categories: News