World Cup apps investigated over concerns Qataris are tracking visitors

Fans traveling to Qatar told to download Ehteraz and Hayya’s apps – OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

Two official World Cup apps are being evaluated by the UK data controller over concerns that Qatari authorities may have been secretly spying on England fans.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is looking into the “potential impact on the privacy rights of UK citizens” of two apps released by the Qatari government and the World Cup committee.

England fans traveling to Qatar have been told to download the ‘Ehteraz’ and ‘Hayya’ apps to allow entry to stadiums and for Covid contact tracing.

But security experts have suggested the apps could covertly allow Qatari authorities to collect sensitive information, monitor pictures and videos and track phone calls.

An ICO spokesperson said they were “aware” of the app’s concerns and were “considering the potential impact on the privacy rights of UK citizens”.

“If anyone is concerned about how their data has been handled, they can file a complaint with the ICO,” the spokesperson added.

Data regulators complain about apps

European data regulators have already filed several complaints about both apps amid claims they could collect private information.

In Norway and France, fans were advised to download apps to a separate blank phone rather than personal devices.

A spokesperson for the French data controller, CNIL, told the Politico website that fans should “travel with an empty smartphone… or an old phone that has been restored”.

“Special attention should be paid to photos, videos or digital works that could put you in difficulty with respect to the legislation of the country visited,” added the spokesperson.

In Germany, watchdog BfDI said it had determined that the processing of both apps “probably goes much further” than advertised by Qatari authorities, with collected data being transferred to a “central server”.

“Real possibility that visitors are being tracked”

“Among other things, one of the apps collects data on whether and with which number a call is made. The other app actively prevents the device it is installed on from going to sleep.

“It is also obvious that the data used by the apps not only stays locally on the device, but is also transmitted to a central server.”

German fans have been warned not to store “personal data, such as phone numbers, pictures or audio files” alongside apps on the same phone.

Datatilsynet, the Norwegian data protection authority, said it was “alarmed” at the information collected by the two apps.

“There is a real possibility that visitors to Qatar, and particularly vulnerable groups, will be monitored by the Qatari authorities,” a spokesman said.

The FBI warned earlier this year that the official app for the Beijing Winter Olympics could pose a potential security risk and could be used to “steal personal information or install tracking tools, malicious code or malware “.

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