How can we stop gender-based technology-facilitated abuse (“tech abuse”) at its roots?
Lead Institution: UCL
UCL PI: Dr Leonie Tanczer
Industry Collaborators: Respect, Refuge, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence, IBM, Kaspersky, Fujitsu, IoT Security Foundation, National Cyber Security Centre, Home Office, College of Policing
Funder: UKRI Future Leaders Fellowhship
Online abuse is one of the most pressing challenges for our digital society.
This is best demonstrated in the context of intimate partner violence (IPV) which continues to affect over two million UK adults with nearly 85% of victims/survivors subjected to some form of technology-facilitated abuse (“tech abuse”).
Tech abuse describes the use of “everyday” digital systems (computers, smartphones, apps) to coerce, control, and harm a person or groups of individuals.
It includes offences such as image-based abuses (“revenge porn”), cyberstalking, and GPS-tracking. It exposes victims/survivors and their children to all types of physical, emotional, and financial harm.
However, the true scale, nature, and impact of tech abuse is unknown, which makes developing solutions extremely problematic. Additionally, the issue is of pressing importance because tech abuse is on the brink of rapid change.
As “smart”, Internet of Things (IoT) devices and Artificial Intelligence (AI) become commonplace, these systems drastically increase the reach of abusers and the ease with which they offend.
For example, smart speakers or thermostats allow abusers to monitor or remotely control the physical environment of victims/survivors and gives them increased power over their most private data.
This Fellowship draws on findings from the “Gender and IoT” pilot study, and establish the foundations to understand different forms of technology-facilitated abuse (so-called “tech abuse”) and to pre-emptively inhibit IPV perpetrators from abusing through digital systems rather than placing the responsibility on victims/survivors to re-actively adjust their behaviour.
To do this, this research works closely with UK statutory and voluntary IPV support sector organisations and key policy and industry actors to study tech abuse perpetrators and utilise the gathered insights to improve the design of digital technologies and future-proof UK policies to address this new risk landscape.
The proposed research programme will drive change by studying:
(a) The conceptual fit of tech abuse with existing IPV definitions, theories, and models.
(b) The background, drivers, and practices of IPV tech abuse perpetrators.
(c) The safety and security shortcomings of existing digital systems such as smart, Internet-connected devices.
(d) The national and international policy landscape relating to domestic abuse, online harms, and cybercrime.