China surveillance streaming platform shut down amid privacy concerns

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese cybersecurity firm Qihoo 360 has shut down a controversial livestreaming platform that allowed people to stream footage online from surveillance cameras in locations such as classrooms and restaurants to grocery stores.

The move, announced on the platform’s official microblog account on Wednesday, comes after the service sparked an outcry over concerns it infringed on people’s privacy and a fierce debate about the limits of surveillance.

The firm said in the statement it would halt livestreams on the platform - called Shuidi, or Water Drop - due to an “internal corporate business adjustment”. The platform allowed people who bought Qihoo surveillance cameras to upload feeds.

China is trying to build one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance technology networks nationwide, with millions of cameras in public places and increasing use of systems such as facial recognition.

The Water Drop platform had come under fire after netizens online criticized it as an intrusion of privacy, especially in more sensitive places like schools or swimming pools.

In one commentary widely read online, blogger Chen Feifei questioned the legality of livestreaming surveillance footage, and said she had visited a dance studio where many parents had said they were unaware their children were being streamed.

Qihoo has previously said it was up to the owners of the cameras to inform people that they could be streamed.

Despite shutting down the platform, the firm said its smart cameras “will focus on providing reliable security surveillance and provide services to customers”.

“We will unswervingly continue to offer smart cameras to nursery schools all over China, and help parents watch their children real time,” the platform’s managers wrote in an open letter posted on its Weibo account.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan, editing by David Evans