The heads of data protection in Europe have this message for football fans: Avoid downloading the World Cup apps from Qatar because they pose a serious privacy risk.
Germany's data protection commissioner is the latest in a long line of European data protection officials to express concern about the risks posed by Qatar's World Cup visitor apps. The Germans claimed in a statement on Tuesday that the information gathered by two Qatari apps that visitors are being urged to download "goes much further" than the privacy notifications of the apps suggest.
The German authority claimed that "one of the apps collects data on whether and with which number a telephone call is made." The other app actively prevents the device on which it is installed from going into sleep mode. It is also obvious that the data used by the apps not only remain locally on the device, but are also transmitted to a central server."
If downloading the apps is "absolutely necessary," according to the German data chiefs, do so on a different, empty phone.
Similar recommendations have already been made by the data protection authorities in France and Norway.
The wide access that the apps want has prompted the Norwegian authority to declare that it is "alarmed." "There is a real possibility that visitors to Qatar, and especially vulnerable groups, will be monitored by the Qatari authorities."
The French government organization advised fans to take "special care" with their pictures and videos and suggested that travelers download the apps right before leaving and remove them as soon as they land in France.
Despite having close links to Qatar, the French government Tuesday echoed the CNIL's recommendation. "In France, thanks to the [General Data Protection Regulation], all applications must guarantee the fundamental rights of individuals and the protection of their data. This is not the case in Qatar " Jean-Noel Barrot, junior minister for digital policy, tweeted about the principles of the privacy regulator.
During the World Cup, which takes place in Qatar from November 20 to December 18, about 1.5 million visitors are anticipated. Since it won the competition in 2010, the event has been dogged by controversy. The bidding process was plagued by suspicions of bribery and corruption, and the country's record on human rights, migrant workers' working conditions, and the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community have all drawn criticism from activists, politicians, and football organisations.
Foreign visitors to the country are obliged to download the official World Cup app Hayya, while those going to medical institutions are urged to download the infection-tracking software Ehteraz.
Experts have referred to both apps as "spyware" since they give the Qatari government extensive access to users' data as well as the ability to read, remove, or alter information and even make direct calls.
An inquiry for comment was not immediately answered by the Qatari government.
Requests for comment from Google and Apple, whose online stores host the apps, were not immediately returned.
By fLEXI tEAM