BITlab: Behavior Information Technology

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Communication Arts & Sciences
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Information Policy, Privacy Failings, and Steps Towards Empowerment in Cases of Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence

by: Knittel, M. & Shillair, R.


The interconnected, automized nature of Internet of Things (IoT) devices can support the ease and enjoyment of many everyday activities. However, developing effective policy for how data is collected and used, including security vulnerabilities and potential threats to personal privacy raised by the intimate data often recorded by these devices, is challenging. As these technologies become more pervasive in everyday life, one domain in which IoT could have particularly adverse outcomes is in cases of technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV). TFSV has deep and lasting impacts on those affected by it (Lopez-Neira et al., 2019; Loya, 2015), but as firsthand victim accounts (Powell & Henry, 2019) and the myriad recent privacy failings of online technologies demonstrate (Li et al., 2018), existing policy and legal practice in this domain are insufficient and can actively increase harm to victims. Additionally, existing work has not closely considered the unique affordances and potential harms of IoT devices specifically. To better understand the prevalence and impacts of IoT TFSV, we surveyed 384 women in the United States about their experiences with intimate partner violence and IPV, their Internet use and security practices, and the impacts of experiencing abuse on their day-to-day life. Combining multiple-choice responses and essay questions, our findings suggest that experiencing traditional IPV predicts experiencing IoT-related IPV, suggesting similar risk factors and mechanisms of harm. However, IoT-related abuses predicted adverse impacts more strongly than traditional abuse, demonstrating the amplified impacts of these emerging technologies. We conclude with a discussion of the policy implications of these findings and potentially fruitful directions for future work.


Knittel, M. & Shillair, R.. “Information Policy, Privacy Failings, and Steps Towards Empowerment in Cases of Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence.”THE 48TH RESEARCH CONFERENCE ON COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION, ANDI NTERNET POLICY, TPRC ’21. Washington, D.C..
February 2021.

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