A leading dairy company in South Korea is embroiled in controversy over one of its advertisements, which appears to liken women to cows and has reminded some users of the national problem of spy cameras.

Seoul Dairy Cooperative, the owner of the milk brand Seoul Milk, apologized last week “to every consumer who felt disturbed” by the ad and said it would conduct an internal review. The company removed the video from its YouTube channel, but it remains available on the accounts of other users who uploaded it.

The ad features a man carrying a camera and approaching a river and field where people, the most visible of which appear to be women, are dressed in white and stretching or sitting on the ground, enjoying the sunshine and drinking fresh water from the river. In the background, a voice-over says, “We finally managed to capture them on camera in a place of pristine cleanliness,” according to the BBC.

As the man films them, he inadvertently makes a sound by stepping on a twig, and the women are replaced by cows, as the voice-over touts Seoul Milk products. “Clean water, organic feed, 100% pure Seoul Milk. Organic milk from an organic ranch in the pleasant nature of Cheongyang.”

The video went viral in South Korea, where the act of filming people with secret cameras, known as “molka,” is controversial, particularly given that there have been widespread issues with women being secretly filmed engaging in sexual acts, or while in toilets and changing rooms.

On social media, users accused the company of tone-deafness and encouraged Seoul Milk customers to switch to a competitor, Maeil Milk.

According to the Korea Herald, an employee of the Seoul Dairy Cooperative said that six of the eight people featured in the field as part of the ad were men, not women. However, all of the close-ups in the ad, with the exception of the cameraman, appear to be of women.

In 2018, after a woman was sentenced to time in prison for posting a secretly captured nude photo of a man online, thousands of women in South Korea protested, alleging that men who commit similar offenses are rarely punished. Activists say that the vast majority of victims of digital sex crimes are women.

Although the government has tightened rules to prevent digital sex crimes, critics say the measures do not go far enough. In 2019, a South Korean court found two K-pop stars guilty of gang-raping unconscious and drunk women, and filming the crimes and distributing the footage in a group chat.

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