"It's the Equivalent of Feeling Like You're in Jail”: Lessons from Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts of IoT-Enabled Intimate Partner Abuse


Sophie Stephenson and Majed Almansoori, University of Wisconsin—Madison; Pardis Emami-Naeini, Duke University; Rahul Chatterjee, University of Wisconsin—Madison


Victim-survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) are facing a new technological threat: Abusers are leveraging IoT devices such as smart thermostats, hidden cameras, and GPS trackers to spy on and harass victim-survivors. Though prior work provides a foundation of what IoT devices can be involved in intimate partner violence, we lack a detailed understanding of the factors which contribute to this IoT abuse, the strategies victim-survivors use to mitigate IoT abuse, and the barriers they face along the way. Without this information, it is challenging to design effective solutions to stop IoT abuse.

To fill this gap, we interviewed 20 participants with firsthand or secondhand experience with IoT abuse. Our interviews captured 39 varied instances of IoT abuse, from surveillance with hidden GPS trackers to harassment with smart thermostats and light bulbs. They also surfaced 21 key barriers victim-survivors face while coping with IoT abuse. For instance, victim-survivors struggle to find proof of the IoT abuse they experience, which makes mitigations challenging. Even with proof, victim-survivors face barriers mitigating the abuse; for example, mitigation is all but impossible for victim-survivors living with an abusive partner. Our findings pinpoint several solutions to combat IoT abuse, including increased transparency of IoT devices, updated IoT access control protocols, and raising awareness of IoT abuse.

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@inproceedings {291211,
author = {Sophie Stephenson and Majed Almansoori and Pardis Emami-Naeini and Rahul Chatterjee},
title = {"It{\textquoteright}s the Equivalent of Feeling Like You{\textquoteright}re in {Jail{\textquotedblright}}: Lessons from Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts of {IoT-Enabled} Intimate Partner Abuse},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {105--122},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity23/presentation/stephenson-lessons},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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