Connected Technology – MPs call on Government to tackle growing problem of tech-enabled domestic abuse – UK Parliament

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The Government must make tackling ‘tech abuse’ a priority, MPs says, amid a warning that the use of smart technology and connected devices in facilitating domestic abuse is becoming a growing problem

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report Connect tech: smart or sinister also calls for more to be done to protect the privacy and rights of children, with young people increasingly likely to interact with connected technology at home and in schools.

The Committee launched its inquiry in May last year to consider both the potential benefit and harms of connected technology, such as smart speakers, virtual assistants and wearable fitness trackers. Government figures state that there are on average nine connected devices in every household in the UK, while by 2050 there will be 24 billion interconnected devices worldwide.

On tech abuse, the Committee 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 images of victims and survivors.

The report calls on the Government to improve the skills of law enforcement and the response of the criminal justice system, while boosting awareness of specialist services tackling violence against women and girls. Manufacturers and distributors also need to be brought together to mitigate risks through product design.

In response to privacy concerns raised by the use of connected tech, the Committee recommends that the Government empowers users, and in particular children, to exercise their rights over their personal data through intuitive product design, clear terms and conditions and digital literacy schemes.

Main conclusions and recommendations

Data and privacy

  • Users must be given clear information about, and a fair chance to understand, the basis on which their data is used and how to exercise their rights. The Government should introduce measures to standardise privacy interfaces for connected devices. Privacy interfaces should be appropriately accessible, intuitive and flexible enough so users of a reasonable level of digital literacy and privacy expectations can use them, without requiring them to go through complex dashboards with long lists of terms and conditions and settings.
  • The use of connected tech in schools and by children in homes raises concerns, including the harvesting and third-party use of children’s data and their lack of control over what technology is used and when. The Information Commissioner’s Office needs to be more proactive and ensure that all products include age-appropriate terms and conditions.
  • The monitoring of employees in smart workplaces should be done only with the consent of those being monitored. The Information Commissioner’s Office should develop its existing draft guidance on “Employment practices: monitoring at work” into a principles-based code for designers and operators of workplace connected tech.
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