Tenants of one of China’s largest online renting platforms, Tencent-backed Ziroom, have found that their daily life was being monitored by unknown law-breakers. A couple who had rented a room in Beijing for nearly half a year had stumbled upon a camera hidden inside a bedside socket.

The couple discovered a strange hole in the socket in September and notified the police which dismantled the socket and found a hidden camera, according to a Legal Evening News report. The camera was equipped with a 16 GB memory card which could record without interruption.

Image credit: Legal Evening News

The incident was first reported on a WeChat official account with police confirming they are investigating the case. Yesterday (October 15), Ziroom issued a statement that it has set up a working group to cooperate with the police. The company noted there are strict checks and system controls for all newly renovated apartments.

Ziroom not only operates an online rental platform but an entire O2O ecosystem. Tenants can rent rooms or entire apartments and pay through the Ziroom app with services such as cleaning and repair available on-demand. The Lianjia-owned company raised RMB 4 billion (around $600 million) in January from Warburg Pincus, Sequoia Capital, and Tencent among others.

Ziroom, however, has found itself under plenty of negative attention lately with a former tenant suing the company over unsafe formaldehyde levels which allegedly led to the death of her husband from leukemia in July. Ziroom has since announced that it will improve air quality monitoring in its apartment. Ziroom also found itself under investigation for breaching Beijing housing regulations this August.

For now, the camera case remains unresolved and the fate of the recorded videos is unknown. Determining the source of the camera has proved tricky with reporters finding a large number of the same type of camera sold on the internet.

According to reports, most cameras sold online have WiFi connectivity and enable real-time monitoring on mobile phones while some cameras even have night vision. The wide availability of spy equipment on Chinese e-commerce platforms was recently highlighted by Chinese homegrown DYI maker Naomi Wu.

Chinese law stipulates that disturbing someone’s privacy by taking photos can lead to detention of no more than five days or in serious cases to up to 10 days as well as a fine of no more than RMB 500. Disseminating private videos, however, can land the offenders in more trouble since distributing and broadcasting obscene footage is punishable by the local criminal law.

Masha Borak is a technology reporter based in Beijing. Write to her at masha.borak [at] technode.com. Pitches with the word "disruptive" will be ignored. Read a good book - learn some more adjectives.

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