Gender and "Internet of Things" (IoT)

Research Institution / Organisation

University College London

In Collaboration With

PETRAS IoT Research Hub; London VAWG Consortium; Privacy International

Principal Researcher

Dr Leonie Maria Tanczer

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

January 2018

Research Context

Gender and IoT is an interdisciplinary project exploring the implications of smart, Internet-connected devices ("Internet of Things"; IoT) on gender-based domestic violence and abuse.

An increasing number of household devices are now "smart" in that they contain sensors, record activity, and share and store data – from teddy bears, door locks to smart TVs. However, little research exists on the gender-based implications such devices have in the context of the domestic household and, specifically, intimate controlling behaviour like gender-based violence and abuse.

We, therefore, address the following research question: How will IoT impact on gender-based domestic violence and abuse and what socio-technical measures will need to be implemented in order to mitigate against those risks?

In the course of the project we aim to understand: (1) the role and impact "Internet of Things" (IoT) technologies have on victims of domestic violence and abuse; (2) the potential risk trajectories that may arise from those devices and services; and (3) the awareness victims and corresponding services (such as women’s’ shelters, police) exhibit, and strategies they apply to mitigate those risks.

The research project should provide guidance for services that engage and help victims (e.g., women's shelters, police) as well as IoT developers that have to consider the potential misuse of their devices and services. It is run in collaboration with a wide user partner group, including the London VAWG Consortium, Privacy International, and the PETRAS IoT Research Hub.

Research Methodology

Data Collection Approaches

  • Interviews (n=50) and focus groups (n=24) with women-centred charities, subject-experts including academics, and representatives of services such as regional police forces.
    Out of consideration for the victims and in order to minimise distress to them, we will not conduct interviews with affected parties themselves;

  • The analysis of data flows and the configuration and settings of selected IoT devices.

Analysis
Thematic Analysis is a social science method which involves the extraction of key insights from datasets such as interviews. The method will allow us to identify:

  • Which strategies stakeholders are currently deploying to mitigate against tech abuse;

  • What developments stakeholder have observed with regards to risk deriving from IoT technologies;

  • Which devices are most likely to be used (or are already being used) in cases of domestic violence and abuse.
    Usable Security Analysis techniques provide insight into how humans interact with technologies. These techniques will be employed to identify from the analysis of IoT data flows, configuration, and settings:

  • Emerging IoT privacy and security risk trajectories which may be exploited by a perpetrator; 

  • The usability of IoT devices which may impact on victims’ ability to control these technologies; 

  • The efficacy of existing strategies promoted by stakeholders to mitigate against IoT risks;

The combination of these methods will allow us to structure the engagement with participants, and relate current understanding to existing measures to enhance socio-technical guidance on mitigating emerging IoT risks.

Interim reports and publications

The project team runs a monthly newsletter in which they share the latest project updates, national and international tech abuse developments as well as recent publications on the topic of technology-facilitated abuse. Sign up for the monthly "Gender and IoT" newsletter here. 

Publications

Parkin, S., Patel, T., Lopez-Neira, I., & Tanczer, L. (2019). Usability Analysis of Shared Device Ecosystem Security: Informing Support for Survivors of IoT-Facilitated Tech-Abuse. Proceedings of the New Security Paradigms Workshop (NSPW ’19), San Carlos, Costa Rica, 1-15.           

Slupska, J., & Tanczer, L. (forthcoming). Tech Abuse as Cybersecurity Challenge: Intimate Partner Violence in the Internet of Things Environment. In J. Bailey, A. Flynn, &, N. Henry (Eds.), Technology-Facilitated Violence and Abuse – International Perspectives and Experiences. Sexual Violence Research Initiative.

Tanczer, L., Lopez-Neira, I., Parkin, S., Patel, T., & Danezis, G. (2018). Gender and IoT Research Report: The Rise of the Internet of Things and Implications for Technology-Facilitated Abuse (pp. 1–9). London: STEaPP, PETRAS IoT Hub.

Lopez-Neira, I., Patel, T., Parkin, S., Danezis, G., & Tanczer, L. (2019). "Internet of Things": How Abuse is Getting Smarter. Safe – The Domestic Abuse Quarterly, (63), 22-26.

Tanczer, L., Parkin, S., Lopez-Neira, I., Slupska, J., & Patel, T. (2019, June). Written Submission to the Online Harms White Paper Consultation. London: STEaPP, PETRAS IoT Hub.

Tanczer, L., Patel, T., Parkin, S., & Danezis, G. (2018, May). Response by the "Gender and IoT" Research Team to the "Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse" UK Government Consultation. London: STEaPP, PETRAS IoT Hub.

Tanczer, L. (2019, February 25). The Government Published Its Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, But Risks Ignoring the Growing Threat of Tech Abuse. Medium - Policy Postings: UCL Public Policy Blog.

Tanczer, L. (2018, December 6). Tackling Tech Risks for Domestic Violence and Abuse. Medium - Policy Postings: UCL Public Policy Blog. 

Date due for completion

November 2021
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