China's biggest Internet security firm said today it will permanently shut down its online live broadcast service following widespread allegations of public privacy infringement.
Qihoo 360 said some of the functions of its online live broadcast service have caused controversy and been maliciously used.
"Live broadcasting and security surveillance are two totally different things, but we combined the two functions in one piece of hardware which may have mislead some of our users, which we should reflect on," a person responsible for the service said.
Before closing the service, Qihoo 360 also pulled all videos concerning public venues from its platform.
Qihoo 360 was embroiled in a privacy infringement scandal after a woman accused the company of encouraging restaurants and small shops in Beijing to live broadcast their businesses without notifying customers.
In the widely circulated article, the woman, named Chen Feifei, found several diners, gym and internet cafés were using Qihoo 360's smart cameras to live broadcast from their businesses without the acknowledgment of customers. The owners claimed the cameras were given for free by Qihoo 360.
Chen interviewed several customers and showed them their images in the live broadcast — they were all shocked to find out they were filmed, and some immediately left the locations.
"Why do they have the right to shoot me and live broadcast it?" a mother with a child asked Chen.
Qihoo 360 fought back at a press conference on December 13, calling it a smear campaign.
CEO Zhou Hongyi said many of the accusations were blatant lies, denying the company sent the cameras for free. Zhou also showed that a business owner must go through several complex steps and verify their identity in order to use the live broadcast function. If a business owner claimed he unintentionally utilized the function that was not true, since it was practically impossible, he claimed.
Despite its defense, an overwhelming majority of netizens still blamed Qihoo 360, with 92 percent saying so in a survey launched by Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.
Only 6.8 percent of the 3,000 netizens surveyed said Qihoo 360 was not at fault at all, and another 1.3 percent said they were not sure.