Spanish soccer league’s app caught eavesdropping on users in anti-piracy push – Ars Technica

Spanish soccer league’s app caught eavesdropping on users in anti-piracy push – Ars Technica
Soccer fans in Madrid on June 12, 2019.
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/ Soccer fans in Madrid on June 12, 2019.

PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images

La Liga, Spain’s top professional soccer league, has been slapped with a €250,000 ($280,000) fine for violating user privacy after the league’s official app activated the microphones on user cell phones, El País reports. The app spied on users in an effort to identify bars that were showing pirated streams of soccer games.

Spanish users download the app to get game times, scores, and other information about soccer games. But the app also included a function designed to help the league identify venues that were streaming soccer games without paying the appropriate licensing fees.

The app would use the GPS sensor to determine whether the phone was located in a bar or other venue that might show soccer streams. If it was, the app would listen for audio from a copyrighted game. If a bar was caught streaming a game and didn’t have an appropriate license, the league could demand the bar pay up.

The app has been downloaded more than 10 million times, according to Reuters.

Europe’s data protection agency ruled that the technology violated user privacy. But according to El País, La Liga insists that its app was in compliance with Spanish privacy laws, and it is planning to appeal the decision. The league says that the app clearly notifies users about the feature and gives them a chance to opt out. The league also said that the app is carefully designed to avoid violating user privacy.

La Liga “states that the technology used is designed to generate exclusively an audio fingerprint,” El País reports. “This fingerprint only contains 0.75% of the information, discarding the remaining 99.25%, so it is technically impossible to interpret or record the voice or human conversations.”

According to the league, this means that it’s not possible to determine the identity of speakers identified by the app or to reconstruct what they said.

In any event, the league says that it will phase out the anti-piracy feature at the end of June.

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