Devices Gone Wild III: Smart Home Devices Used for Harassment

The American Bar Journal reports that some people are harassing their spouses by remote manipulation of smart home devices, like thermostats, TVs and the like – turning the heat way up, or off, turning TVs or radios on and off, etc.

Is this a problem in Canada? Is there a reason that the spouse left in the home can’t just turn off the devices, or the central control device like Alexa?

Would restraining orders need to deal with this kind of ‘contact’ or abuse expressly?


  1. If it’s not yet a problem, it certainly could be. All that would be required is a relationship where the spouse in the home was significantly less technologically adept than the abusing spouse. Virtually any kind of power differential (social, financial, physical, etc.) can be a basis for abuse. Given that computer literacy is quite variable and likely intersectional with gender and financial background (and age, think elder abuse) it seems a fairly easy avenue for harassment.

    It’s easy to think of the solutions we would use against such harassment, reprogramming the devices, turning them off, disconnecting the household wifi, opening windows etc. Yet here we are typing at each other in an online forum. People who would never participate in online activity, might also not think of hitting the “reset” button, or unplugging a device. (And, yes, there is a reason that tech support people sometimes start with “Is it plugged in?”)

    Likely a better question to ask than whether restraining orders “Would” need to deal with harassment via smart-home devices, is whether they *Could* deal. Enforcement of a regular restraining order can vary in effectiveness. I find it difficult to imagine a swift or effective police response to someone who calls in saying “My home is attacking me!”

  2. In a low tech scenario – lets say an abusive spouse who is no longer a member of the household continues to have access to a home because the occupying spouse hasn’t changed the locks. The spouse enters the house without permission does whatever mischief, e.g., messes with the thermostat etc., then leaves. Is this harassment? Unlawful entry? Invasion of privacy? Mental abuse? Could the same rules not be applied whether the thermostat or whatever device is being adjusted remotely? Perhaps, restraining orders could be used to include not just physical but also remote/virtual invasion of space.