The recent phenomenon of photographers using high-powered lenses to take multiple shots of pretty women passing by a fashionable shopping complex in Beijing’s commercial district suggests a lucrative business has been created at the expense of citizens’ privacy, critics say.

At about 4pm on Sunday May 19, more than a dozen of men of different ages equipped with cameras fitted with zoom lenses or digital camcorders were seen snapping shots of pretty ladies in trendy clothes walking past Taikoo Li Sanlitun – Swire Properties’ fashionable complex in the heart of Beijing’s Chaoyang District, The Beijing News reported.

Some photographers even asked these ladies to stop to pose for them. But if the women refused, or covered their faces, they seemed to care little and took even more pictures of them.

This keen pursuit has been fanned by groups such as Weibo, WeChat and TikTok – the leading apps on Mainland China that photographers use to try to gain fame as “social media influencers”.

One of the men told an undercover reporter that they could start a social media space on Weibo or WeChat, online platforms where catchy photos are shared in a bid to get a large number of followers.

The more people who view their pages, the more revenue generated from advertisements.

Or, owners of the photos are simply paid when photos of the women are sold to video-sharing platforms such as TikTok, where the company matches users’ videos to pictures featuring the same clothing and provides viewers with hyperlinks to an online shop to purchase those very items.

But for some, the act of taking photos of people in public and putting them online for the above-mentioned purposes is a violation to Article 100 of the General Principles of the Civil Law of China, which states that citizens have the right to portraits and may not use the photos of others for the purpose of making profits without their consent.