The UK government’s report this week into how smart technology and connected devices are increasingly facilitating domestic abuse was underpinned by evidence submitted by academics in the REPHRAIN research centre, including the School of Management’s Professor David Ellis.

The REPHRAIN National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online was formed in 2020 to help protect people from online harm. Researchers from the University of Bath joined a team of experts in computer science, law, psychology and criminology from the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, King’s College London and University College London (UCL).

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report Connect tech: smart or sinister warned of risks and harms associated with such technology, including a loss of privacy, online safety concerns and broadening patterns of domestic abuse. It also called for more to be done to protect the privacy and rights of children, with young people increasingly likely to interact with connected technology.

"While connected technology, such as smart speakers, virtual assistants and wearable fitness trackers can have demonstrable benefits, they also bring potential harms including the use of spyware whereby perpetrators can monitor movements and collect recordings and images of victims and survivors,” said Professor Ellis.

REPHRAIN consolidates the UK’s academic, industry, policy and third sector capabilities, and led by the University of Bristol, provides a single body to engage with government, industry and citizens. Other University of Bath academics in the centre include School of Management [Professor Adam Joinson}(, and, from the Department of Psychology, Professor Danaë Stanton Fraser, Dr Laura Smith and Dr Alicia Cork.

“I am pleased to have played a part in REPHRAIN's contributions, which are acknowledged throughout the government report. The report contains multiple policy recommendations, with a special focus on security and privacy for individuals and groups. We expect that this discussion will continue after the summer recess of Parliament,” said Professor Ellis.

The Committee launched its inquiry in May last year to consider both the potential benefit and harms of connected technology, such as smart speakers, virtual assistants and wearable fitness trackers. Government figures state that there are on average nine connected devices in every household in the UK, while by 2050 there will be 24 billion interconnected devices worldwide.

On tech abuse, the Committee heard evidence that the vast majority of domestic abuse cases now feature some sort of cyber element, including the use of spyware, and perpetrators monitoring movements and collecting recordings and images of victims and survivors.

The report calls on the Government to improve the skills of law enforcement and the response of the criminal justice system, while boosting awareness of specialist services tackling violence against women and girls. Manufacturers and distributors also need to be brought together to mitigate risks through product design.