A study of 31 Australian households which have installed smart home technology has found the early adopters are concerned about the potential security threats for women, and the gendered stereotypes reinforced by virtual assistants.\n \nThe researchers, from Monash University, RMIT and Intel, interviewed early adopters of the technology and conducted home tours to better understand their views on the home automation.\n \nSome functions of the tech were universally praised, including smart lighting and the ability for working parents care for their pets, home or children, by checking on them via security cameras. Smart lighting was also a popular function, and voice activation technology was often a source of fun and play.\n \nBut many voiced concerns about how the technologies could be used for privacy invasion or as a form of intimidation \u2013 particularly for women \u2013 by locking them in or out of the property or monitoring their movements and activities.\n \nStudy participants \u2013 which were mostly aged 35 to 54 years and had high incomes \u2013 also highlighted significant concerns about the potential for these devices to become hacked.\n\u201cSome householders were concerned that these devices could be used to invade the privacy of others without their knowledge or consent, and potentially exacerbate domestic violence situations by, for example, using a smart lock to restrict access to the house,\u201d said study lead Associate Professor Yolande Strengers from Monash University\u2019s Faculty of Information Technology.\n \nTheir fears are well founded. One participant in a recentdomestic abuse study by the University of Queensland reported smart home related abuse from their partner:\n \nNeil set up a remotely-controlled camera system in the home, and monitored Susan\u2019s movements in every room, including when she was showering and breastfeeding. She repeatedly asked him to disable the system, and at one stage feared it had been hacked. She recalls one occasion, as she walked out of the bathroom, the camera moved to follow her.\nIn 2018, The New York Times reported how smart home technology was being used as a \u201cmeans for harassment,monitoring,revenge and control\u201d.\nWomen in the study also expressed frustration at the \u201cgendered stereotypes\u201d of digital home voice assistants. This is a common complaint among users of voice assistants, given Apple's Siri, Amazon Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana have feminine voices.\n \n\u201cThe potential for uptake in smart home technology is huge, but there are also a number of important gender concerns that need to be explicitly considered by the human computer interaction design community in the further development of these devices,\u201d Strengers said.\n \nFor one participant, a CEO and single mum, smart home technology provided both productivity gains and a sense of unease.\n \nOne user utilised Google Home\u2019s scheduling, voice calendar entries, shopping lists and timers to help coordinate her business, housekeeping and parenting duties. She was also able to send access codes to people who rented her house during the summer.\n \n\u201cHowever, as a feminist, Angela was also disturbed by the feminised voices of her digital home and work assistants,\u201d noted study co-author Dr Jenny Kennedy, from RMIT\u2019s Digital Ethnography Research Centre.\n\u201cShe had deliberately changed their voices to a man\u2019s to challenge gendered stereotypes of feminised cleaning and administrative roles and avoid reinforcing these assumptions with her two sons,\u201d Kennedy added.\nThe study - Protection, Productivity and Pleasure in the Smart Home \u2013 concluded that the sectors shortcomings were down to women being \u201cunderrepresented and underserved by the industry\u201d.\n \n\u201cIn the current smart home market, it is mainly men who are designing and selling smart home technologies, and also mainly men who are responsible for setting up, maintaining and introducing smart home to other householders,\u201d Strengers said.\n\u201cThis affects the types of devices that get designed, and their potential benefits and usefulness to other householders,\u201d she added.\n\n\nThe eSafety Commissioner provides resources to help women manage technology risks and abuse.