10 July 2018
Nellie Bowles investigates the quiet rise of domestic abuse through home control technology.
Updated 2 July
By Nellie Bowles
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SAN FRANCISCO — The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.
One woman had turned on her air-conditioner but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse helpline she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.
Their stories are part of a new pattern of behaviour in domestic abuse cases tied to the rise of smart home technology. Internet-connected locks, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras marketed as the newest conveniences are now also being used as a means for harassment, monitoring, revenge and control.
Abusers would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power.
In more than 30 interviews with The New York Times, domestic abuse victims, their lawyers, shelter workers and emergency responders described how the technology was becoming an alarming new tool. Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse.
For victims and emergency responders, the experiences were often aggravated by a lack of knowledge about how smart technology works, how much power the other person had over the devices, how to legally deal with the behaviour and how to make it stop.
“People have started to raise their hands in trainings and ask what to do about this,” Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said of sessions she holds about technology and abuse. She said she was wary of discussing the misuse of emerging technologies because “we don’t want to introduce the idea to the world, but now that it’s become so prevalent, the cat’s out of the bag.”
Some of tech’s biggest companies make smart home products, such as Amazon with its Echo speaker and Alphabet’s Nest smart thermostat. The devices are typically positioned as helpful life companions, including when people are at work or on vacation and want to remotely supervise their homes.
No groups or individuals appear to be tracking the use of internet-connected devices in domestic abuse, because the technology is relatively new, although it is rapidly catching on. In 2017, 29 million homes in the United States had some smart technology, according to a report by McKinsey, which estimated the number was growing by 31 percent a year.
Connected home devices have increasingly cropped up in domestic abuse cases over the past year, according to those working with victims of domestic violence. Those at help lines said more people were calling in the last 12 months about losing control of Wi-Fi-enabled doors, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras. Lawyers also said they were wrangling with how to add language to restraining orders to cover smart home technology.
Muneerah Budhwani, who takes calls at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said she started hearing stories about smart homes in abuse situations last winter.
Graciela Rodriguez, who runs a 30-bed emergency shelter at the Center for Domestic Peace in San Rafael, California, said some people had recently come in with tales of “the crazy-making things” like thermostats suddenly kicking up to 100 degrees or smart speakers turning on blasting music.
“They feel like they’re losing control of their home,” she said. “After they spend a few days here, they realise they were being abused.”
Smart home technology can be easily harnessed for misuse for several reasons. Tools like connected in-home security cameras are relatively inexpensive — some retail for $40 — and are straightforward to install. Usually, one person in a relationship takes charge of putting in the technology, knows how it works and has all the passwords. This gives that person the power to turn the technology against the other person.
Emergency responders said many victims of smart home-enabled abuse were women.
Connected home gadgets are largely installed by men, said Melissa Gregg, a research director at Intel working on the implications of smart home technology. Many women also do not have all the apps on their phones, said Jenny Kennedy, a postdoctoral research fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, who is researching families that install smart home technology.
(One in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control report.)
One woman called it ‘jungle warfare’ because it was hard to know where the attacks were coming from.
The people who spoke to The Times about being harassed through smart home gadgetry were all women, many from wealthy enclaves where this type of technology has taken off. They declined to publicly use their names, citing safety and because some were in the process of leaving their abusers. Their stories were corroborated by domestic violence workers and lawyers who handled their cases.
Each said the use of internet-connected devices by their abusers was invasive — one called it a form of “jungle warfare” because it was hard to know where the attacks were coming from. They also described it as an asymmetry of power because their partners had control over the technology — and by extension, over them.
One of the women, a doctor in Silicon Valley, said her husband, an engineer, “controls the thermostat. He controls the lights. He controls the music.” She said, “Abusive relationships are about power and control, and he uses technology.”
She said she did not know how all of the technology worked or exactly how to remove her husband from the accounts. But she said she dreamed about retaking the technology soon.
“I have a specific exit plan that I’m in the process of implementing, and one of my fantasies is to be able to say, ‘OK Google, play whatever music I want,’” she said. Her plan with the smart thermostat, she said, was to “pull it out of the wall.”
When a victim uninstalls the devices, this can escalate a conflict, experts said. “The abuser can see it’s disabled, and that may trigger enhanced violence,” said Jennifer Becker, a lawyer at Legal Momentum, a women’s rights legal advocacy group.
Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said disabling the devices could also further cut off a victim. “They’re not sure how their abuser is getting in and they’re not necessarily able to figure it out because they don’t know how the systems work,” Galperin said. “What they do is they just turn everything off, and that just further isolates them.”
Legal recourse may be limited. Abusers have learned to use smart home technology to further their power and control in ways that often fall outside existing criminal laws, Becker said. In some cases, she said, if an abuser circulates video taken by a connected indoor security camera, it could violate some states’ revenge porn laws, which aim to stop a former partner from sharing intimate photographs and videos online.
Advocates are beginning to educate emergency responders that when people get restraining orders, they need to ask the judge to include all smart home device accounts known and unknown to victims. Many people do not know to ask about this yet, Becker said. But even if people get restraining orders, remotely changing the temperature in a house or suddenly turning on the TV or lights may not contravene a no-contact order, she said.
Several law enforcement officials said the technology was too new to have shown up in their cases, although they suspected the activity was occurring.
“I’m sure that it’s happening,” said Zach Perron, a captain in the police department in Palo Alto, California. “It makes complete sense knowing what I know about the psychology of domestic violence suspects. Domestic violence is largely about control — people think of physical violence but there’s emotional violence, too.”
10 July 2018
‘Do the crime, do the time,’’ they say. But often it isn’t that simple.
Being incarcerated is not the only punishment faced by those who are convicted and jailed. Prisoners are often punished financially. It is almost impossible for them to do simple things such as cancelling direct debits for an electricity or gas service; cancelling leases on rental properties; or paying mobile phone bills. When they leave prison, they can be hit with unexpected debts.
28 June 2018
Source: MEDIA RELEASE Thursday 28 June 2018
The independent Banking Code Compliance Monitoring Committee (CCMC) has today released a report examining, in detail, banks’ reporting of Code breaches in compliance with the Code of Banking Practice.
21 June 2018
Source: ABC News
As property prices in Australia have climbed over the past few years, thousands of Australians desperate to get a foothold on the property ladder have used interest-only loans.
But the interest-only period on these loans doesn’t last forever.
4 June 2018
ASIC is warning consumers about companies that claim they can fix a poor credit rating. ASIC is running a month-long campaign, with other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies, to help consumers understand that by using credit repair and debt management firms they may end up paying high fees.
Consumers should be aware these companies often fail to fix credit and debt issues, which can leave people in a worse financial situation.
25 May 2018
An ASIC surveillance found that Cash Converters Personal Finance Pty Ltd (‘Cash Converters’) had systematically failed to meet regulatory guidelines on debt collection practices, including by too frequently contacting consumers.
ASIC found that as a result of poor internal controls and policies Cash Converters routinely breached Regulatory Guide Debt collection guideline: for collectors and creditors (RG 96), which recommends that consumers be contacted regarding a debt not more than three times per week or 10 times per month. These guidelines are based on legislative prohibitions on harassment and coercion.
25 May 2018
ASIC has issued three infringement notices to debt management firm Fox Symes and Associates Pty Ltd (Fox Symes) for making potentially misleading statements in its advertising. The company has paid a total of $37,800 in penalties.
ASIC took action against Fox Symes after it made a number of potentially misleading representations in banner advertisements, Google ads and on its website. These representations included ‘Free Debt Assistance’,‘Reduce Debt in Minutes’ and ‘15sec Approval’.
21 May 2018
Do you know any emerging leaders in your sector?
Standards Australia are now accepting applications for the 2018/19 Young Leaders Program. The program provides in-depth training on developing standards and includes the opportunity to observe committees in action. It’s the perfect way to launch a standards career.
8 May 2018
Source: Sent in by RASA's Susan Merritt
Hello SAFCA Members,
Francie came across a very interesting new policy from St George and Bank SA Bank, effective from 30th May 2018.
From what I understand, Bank clients/customers can make a “Gambling Preference Request” for their Credit Card which leads to declined transactions from any merchant identified under a ‘gambling’, ‘betting’ or ‘casino’ category. Apparently, this will apply to online agencies as well as in venue transactions (whether from EFTPOS machine or ATM), as long as the above condition applies.
Clients/customers can apparently make this adjustment to their credit card online, via phone or at a branch.
Hope that’s helpful info! :)
10 April 2018
Last year, as the government prepared another round of welfare crackdowns, Minister Michaelia Cash said she expects “that those who can work should work and our welfare system should be there as a genuine safety net, not as something that people can choose to fund their lifestyle.”
The subtext was clear – those who need help are a drain on the rest of us.
This rhetoric is familiar, but it is wrong. It is the wealthiest Australians who enjoy the most support.
Research commissioned by Anglicare Australia shows that each year, a staggering $68 billion is spent keeping the wealthiest households wealthy. That is greater than the cost of Newstart, disability support, the age pension, or any other single welfare group.
The Cost of Privilege report, prepared by Per Capita, models four household types to show how these concessions and tax breaks work. One of the couples we modelled, Tim and Michelle, own their own home. They have two children in private schools, top health insurance, and two investment properties. Michelle doesn’t work, and Tim runs a small business. Each year, Tim and Michelle get $99,708 in concessions from the taxpayer, or $1917 per week. That is well over twice as much as a couple with two children on Newstart, and nearly three times as much as a family with one parent on the Disability Support Pension. Tim and Michelle do this by getting concessions on their superannuation, negatively gearing their investment properties to minimise their taxable income, and getting tax breaks for private schools and private health insurance. They also get generous Capital Gains Tax exemptions.
Each year, thousands of Australia’s wealthiest households profit from these loopholes and subsidies. Our report finds that tax exemptions on private healthcare and education for the wealthiest 20 per cent cost more than $3 billion a year. Superannuation concessions to them cost over $20 billion a year, and their Capital Gains Tax exemptions cost an astonishing $40 billion a year. Compare that to the annual cost of Newstart, which comes in at just under $11 billion a year.
Importantly, nothing that Tim and Michelle are doing is wrong or illegal. This is not a broken system. It is a system working exactly the way it was designed to work, supporting the wealthiest at the expense of the rest of us.
These numbers tell us that something has gone badly wrong. The eighties were the decade of trickle-down economics, where taxes were cut for the richest with the promise that everyone else would soon feel the benefits. But now it’s worse – we’re in an era of trickle-up economics where subsidies, tax breaks and concessions for the richest are paid for by everyone else.
At the same time as some people are enjoying generous support because of their wealth, those who have the least are being targeted. Parliament has just passed a set of welfare crackdowns that will include a demerit system for Centrelink recipients, expanding the cashless welfare trial, penalising job seekers who miss appointments, and forcing people to run down their bank account before they can seek help.
Other changes mean that personal crises, like relationship breakdown or a family death, can’t be considered when people have problems completing their paperwork. And to top it off, hundreds of millions of dollars is being cut from social security.
All of this shows us an uncomfortable truth. We have become a country that cuts from the poorest to give to the richest – a fact borne out by the government’s obsession with corporate tax cuts.
Some parts of the media have taken issue with the report, but they have missed the point. Anglicare Australia has never said that we should abolish all concessions and subsidies. We are simply making the point that if we can afford to forego such staggering amounts of money to support the very wealthiest people, then we can afford to support those doing it tough too.
If we want to tackle inequality in Australia, the answer is simple. First, we need to end the trickle-up economics by winding back some tax breaks to the very wealthiest people. Next, we need to lift income support. The OECD has already warned that our income support payments are far too low. They are being outstripped every year by the cost of living.
And finally, we need to stop demonising people who need help. Cutting from the poorest must stop.
It is well past time that we end the trickle-up economics, and build a tax system that works for everyone.
Kasy Chambers is the executive director of Anglicare Australia.