A mini camera Photo: A screenshot of Sina Weibo
Mini cameras have sparked privacy concerns among users of hotels and other facilities around China, after media reports exposed this device secretly filming people at many hotels.
The expose came after a couple, who was traveling to Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan Province last week, found a pinhole camera under the television. They contacted the hotel but the one in charge tried to brush off the accusation by saying that 80 percent of Zhengzhou's hotels have such cameras.
The Beijing News reported on Sunday that the man who installed cameras in the hotel, an insurance company employee, was detained and no video was released yet. The hotel employee was also detained for 10 days for rumor mongering.
However, this failed to assure angry netizens. On the contrary, the topic "How to discover cameras which are secretly filming" attracted 140 million views as of press time.
After reading the news, "I bought a camera detector yesterday just to avoid becoming the 'leading actor' of a short, cheap online video," Tang Jiayou, a Chengdu resident, also a frequent traveler, told the Global Times.
He said he dared not turn on the light or connect the Wi-Fi for fear that he may be watched by a camera, or someone who is going to steal information from his phone.
China has strict restrictions on the use and sale of pinhole cameras, which are categorized as special equipment for stealing information and spying, and any unauthorized behavior is illegal, Liu Junhai, a business law professor at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
But Liu said the onus is on hotels or shop owners to avoid such awkward situation.
"When customers enjoy services from hotels or shops, they also count on them to protect their privacy and safety. So when a situation like being secretly filmed arises, hotels and shops should be held accountable as well," Liu said.
China's Criminal Law states that selling and making special spy equipment, such as eavesdropping or peeping equipment, can result in a sentence of up to three years.
After the exposure of the news, such products were no longer available on Taobao, China's biggest online shopping platform. But certain shops selling cameras told the Global Times that they still have it, and the platform just filters key words such as "pinhole camera" and "mini camera."
These cameras are also available on Xianyu, an online marketplace of secondhand goods, with prices ranging from 100 yuan ($14.5) to 1,200 yuan.
The cameras can be hidden under television sets, in closets, toilet sets and on the wall, a Xianyu vendor told the Global Times reporter who pretended to be a buyer on Monday.
He said the camera can also remotely transmit video to terminal devices.
The Global Times reporter also found that buying such cameras does not require a real name or any other form of registration.
According to thepaper.cn, that the device has proven to be a lucrative tool for some. People can sell the videos online from 20 yuan to 60 yuan.
The police found in a 2018 case that 300 mini cameras at hotels made more than 100,000 films and earned the filmmakers more than 500,000 yuan.