World Cup apps investigated over concerns of Qataris monitoring visitors

Fans traveling to Qatar have been urged to download the Ehteraz and Hayya apps – OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images

Two official World Cup apps are being assessed by Britain’s data watchdog amid fears Qatari authorities are secretly spying on England fans.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is examining the ‘potential impact on the privacy rights of British citizens’ of two apps published by the Qatari government and the World Cup committee.

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

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

A spokesperson for the ICO said it was “aware” of concerns about the app and would “review 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 the two apps amid claims they may be collecting private information.

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

A spokesperson for France’s data watchdog CNIL told Politico that fans should “travel with a blank smartphone…or an old phone that has been reset.”

“Particular attention must be paid to photos, videos or digital works which could put you in difficulty vis-à-vis the legislation of the country visited”, added the spokesperson.

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

“Real possibility visitors will be monitored”

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

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

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

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

“There is a real possibility that visitors to Qatar, and in particular vulnerable groups, may be monitored by Qatari authorities,” a spokesperson said.

Earlier this year, the FBI warned that the official Beijing Winter Olympics app 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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