Galaxy employees are “secretly” being monitored and manipulated online under a deal struck between the company and a Hong Kong-based digital marketing firm YouFind, according to the South China Morning Post.
Internal company documents obtained by SCMP give details of an operation to weed out online comments or narratives detrimental to the image of Galaxy and “create positive comments in Facebook groups etc” to “neutralise” negativity.
In practice, this involved YouFind using various online profiles to find and contradict online posts which could make the company look bad, and spread positive news about it.
The “monitoring” and “seeding” operation – which Galaxy said accorded with “entirely standard global industry practice” – was, according to sources familiar with the matter, contractually agreed on. The process bypassed normal procurement procedures and is in direct response to a deluge of online criticism Galaxy faced in the wake of Typhoon Hato almost a year ago.
In February, Galaxy put in place a special bonus arrangement after hundreds of employees lodged complaints with Macau’s Labour Affairs Bureau over working conditions during the storm.
An online security and data privacy protection expert described the deal as “the tip of a very big and very worrying iceberg”, and Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner for personal data Stephen Wong Kai-yi said he was monitoring the case.
According to the office of the commissioner, both companies are obliged to follow Hong Kong privacy laws, even though the monitoring is in Macau and of employees there.
An employee who requested anonymity, said: “Galaxy is very worried about their reputation after their response to Typhoon Hato. But this seems too much, it’s like Cambridge Analytica, and I think it is against me in terms of privacy and the right to speak my opinion, and not have it twisted by made-up people online.”
Sources said the contract over online activity was sealed by senior Galaxy executives after negotiations with YouFind, and work on the monitoring project began over the past two months.
In a statement released on Wednesday, a representative of the organisation said: “In accordance with entirely standard global industry practice, Galaxy Entertainment Group has appointed outsourcing suppliers to provide social media marketing services to GEG in order to measure and enhance the group’s online social media presence.
“GEG has not and will not authorise any illegal use of social media. GEG proactively fulfils its social responsibilities and strives to ensure that the conduct of its business complies with the laws of [Macau and Hong Kong].
“GEG is unable to disclose any specific information about its vendors due to confidentiality arrangements with those vendors … which GEG has a duty to protect.”
On its website, YouFind – whose head office is in Ngau Tau Kok – describes itself as “an interactive digital marketing agency” and a “passionate marketer that delivers online solutions by providing smart thinking and smart strategies”.
The website makes no mention of the “neutralising” services and “seeding” of “created” positive comments referred to in the internal documents. Despite numerous attempts to contact YouFind, the company did not respond.