Candid camera of a different kind

It is just a video of a woman sitting on the sofa, looking at her mobile phone while her husband is busy playing with their son in the living room. It is the usual routine of almost every household.

But to some people, it is no ordinary clip. They enjoy watching other peoples’ lives and are willing to pay a few hundred yuan for such a video in the black market.

“There are some who enjoy prying into people’s personal lives, seeing what others are doing and they love to get their hands on these raw materials, ” said a seller.

According to a TV investigative news reporting programme broadcast last week, tens of thousands of videos taken from various places, including residences, hotel rooms, spas, public toilets and fitting rooms of shopping malls were being sold online.

They were taken via surveillance cameras, either privately installed at homes or secretly placed at public venues.

The videos cost around 20 yuan (RM13) to a few hundred each, depending on its length and content.

Apart from video recordings, buyers can also pay to watch real-time events straight from the surveillance cameras.

A team from Henan Broadcasting System made the discovery after carrying out an undercover mission into this black market business following a tip-off from one salesman, who only wanted to be known as Xiao Li.

Xiao Li, from Zhengzhou city, was shocked when he saw a video of himself sleeping, changing clothes and preparing to take shower at home being shared.

He decided to join the “discovering novelty” group in QQ – a popular communication platform before WeChat was introduced – where his video was shared.

There were some 950 members in the group, where the administrator shared short clips secretly filmed from various places.

These recordings were just “teasers”. Group members have to make a purchase to watch in full.

The TV team paid an undisclosed amount to receive several hundred clips taken from various hotels.

“The images and voices are very clear and the group admin said he has tens of thousands of these candid shots, ” the programme reported.

A clip showing a couple engaging in sexual intercourse was priced at 288 yuan (RM185) and for only 888 yuan (RM560), buyers get to watch the real-time activity via five cameras installed at hotel rooms.

Electrical outlets, WiFi routers, smoke detectors, clocks, air-condition units, tissue boxes, televisions, shampoo bottles and shower gel containers are common places to hide a camera in hotel rooms.

The seller had recommended an eight-hour-long clip of a family of three spending their leisure time at the living room of a homestay apartment to the TV crew.

Recordings of people’s daily lives were the best-seller, he said.

“This clip has been sold a few hundred times, ” said the group admin, who subsequently shared shots of them at work.

It showed an employee monitoring 24 live scenes taken through the surveillance cameras installed at different venues.

The employee would remotely control, turn the camera angles and record the “interesting moments”.

“I have more than 10 runners across the country. just tell me where you want the camera to be installed and I can do it for you.

“One camera costs a few hundred yuan and I can make the money back by selling two clips. So, it doesn’t matter if they are discovered and taken, ” he added.

The TV crew found the seller sourcing materials from at least 8,000 cameras installed throughout the country.

Apart from this, the seller also hacked into surveillance cameras in private homes.

Every camera has an ID code, which can be easily broken into with the relevant software.

The group admin was selling a set of IDs of cameras installed at a private residence for just 70 yuan (RM45) and charging 5,000 yuan (RM3,155) for the password-breaking software.

“As long as you get the camera ID, you can break into it with this, ” he said as he demonstrated to the

TV crew members, who were shocked to see the seller hacking into more than 3,000 cameras within 30 minutes.

A journalist involved in the assignment said some 90% of the clips could not pass censorship.

“We will delete them permanently, ” he said.

Following the expose of this illegal business, netizens got into a heated discussion on strategies to protect their privacy while calling on the authorities to investigate the incident.

A netizen named Aiyun suggested that stern action be taken against both the seller and buyer.

“Be it the person who filmed, sold or bought the materials, they are insane and should be punished, ” she added.

“When there is no demand, there is no supply, ” said another netizen who agreed with the suggestion.

Internet users have warned travellers to check the hotel rooms for hidden cameras.

Some hoped for better control of the sale of surveillance cameras.

“I have one installed at home to monitor my cat, and will disconnect it whenever I’m at home, ” said Taozi.

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