Stalkers increasingly use smart home devices to intimidate, control victims
In a growing trend, stalkers are using smart devices like smart speakers, cameras and remotely-controlled lights and alarms to intimidate their victims, according to an investigation by RTL Nieuws. Experts told RTL the devices are also used for spying purposes.
Some stalkers may adjust the television volume, flicker the lights or change the temperature of a home to get their ex-partners' attention. One victim's husband spoke to her through a Google Home speaker after she filed a restraining order on him.
"Honey, it doesn't have to go like this," he told her through the speaker. "I love you." The anonymous victim, who goes by the name Ellen, told RTL that the message may sound innocent enough –– but it intimidated her. "I didn't feel safe. I didn't want to see him. It was so scary."
Ellen's husband also used a camera to monitor when she left the house, claiming it was for her safety. "When I went out, he knew immediately. He immediately called: 'Where are you? What are you doing?' I always had to justify myself. He could also turn off the lights and turn down the heating remotely. There is so much power behind all those devices."
One victim's ex-partner caused the lights in their home to flicker when she did not respond to his messages, according to RTL Nieuws, while another used a remote-controlled camera to capture nude images of his victim.
Dutch homes are leaders when it comes to smart device technology: 27 percent of households have a smart thermostat, 20 percent have smart speakers and 14 percent have smart lighting, according to RTL Nieuws. Experts including a lawyer, private investigator and social worker see a new form of domestic violence emerging, in which stalkers use these devices to harass or contact people inside the home.
Aid worker Gjalt Hofstra recommends that people remember to break up digitally as well as physically, he told RTL.
"They are brought in when the relationship is still fun," Hofstra said. "It is often the men who buy, install and manage them. When the couple breaks up, they still know the password or have access via an app, which is not very useful."