Parent company Qihoo 360 has shut down its Shuidi live streaming platform that was connected to its WiFi-operated surveillance cameras after a period of “reflection” and “misjudging of user sentiment” prompted by public outcry over the system. However, it will continue to supply the cameras for free to kindergartens so that parents can monitor their children.

Screenshot Shuidi live stream of a noodle shop in Beijing with user comments down the right

Internet security company Qihoo 360 makes cameras sold as 360 Smart Cameras. The cameras need little installation as they connect over WiFi and integrate with software which makes the stream from your camera available on your phone or computer. However, many streams were also publicly available. Cameras were installed to create a live video stream of scenes such as radio studios, but also in children’s ballet classes, shops, and people’s homes. Camera locations were even plotted on a map.

Beijing locations of Shuidi cameras broadcasting live

The Shuidi live streaming interface allowed users to comment on what they saw. There had been some international coverage of such platforms and lack of privacy, but an article called “92-year-old Lady Zhou Hongyi: Stop Staring at Us” went viral online in China on December 12 and brought the issue into public attention. The article also demonstrated that no warning was given when a person enters a shop that is live broadcasting, infringing their rights.

Qihoo 360 Smart Camera issued a statement to clarify that not all cameras are connected to the Shudi live streaming platform, and that they had already made the connecting of cameras to the live streaming platform more complex, but that after some reflection they had decided to close the platform.

Qihoo 360’s decision to keep supplying free cameras to kindergartens follows a high-profile case at a branch of the RYB kindergarten chain in Beijing in late November. Children were found to have been pricked with needles and given unidentified pills. The debate following as to whether cameras should be installed has continued since, adding to the discussion on similar cameras already in schools.

China is currently surging ahead with surveillance and is expected to have one surveillance camera for every two people by 2020.

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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