Official 'La Liga' Spanish soccer league app spies on users to identify illegally broadcast...


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The big picture: Conspiracy theorists have long claimed that some apps surreptitiously spy on their users—Facebook has been accused of doing it to improve ad targeting for years. But while an application designed for Spanish soccer fans has admitted it does listen in on people, it’s not for the reasons you might think.

The official app for Spain’s top-flight soccer league, La Liga, recently received an update that saw it request permission to access users' microphones and GPS settings, which isn’t too out of the ordinary. When granted, the app activates the mic and geolocation of a mobile device during times when La Liga matches are taking place. Should it detect audio suggesting games are being shown in bars or other venues, the GPS is used to identify these locations and find out if they are licensed to show La Liga matches.

The league’s governing body, LFP, said it has “a responsibility to protect the clubs and their fans” from unlicensed broadcasts in public places, and that such activities result in an estimated €150 million lost from the league each year.

LFP said the functionality requires users' consent and is only activated during league matches. It added that the app would remind people of its permissions on a regular basis and ask for confirmation of their consent.

The news has raised privacy and security concerns among users of the app, but La Liga says it does not access the audio recordings it captures. These are turned into irreversible binary code on the device itself. They are then compared to a database of reference codes and deleted if there are no matches.

It appears that Europe’s new GDPR privacy laws, which require users to understand clearly what they’re signing when agreeing to terms, have brought the app’s functions under the spotlight.

Not surprisingly, users aren’t happy about the amount of data the app collects, which includes IP addresses and unique app IDs. It seems Spain’s data protection watchdog, AEPD, feels the same way—it’s now looking into the situation.

The Google Play store’s stats show that La Liga has been downloaded 10 million times.

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