Qatar World Cup apps are privacy nightmares, says EU

Soccer fans visiting Qatar for the World Cup shouldn’t download or install the event’s official apps to their iPhone or other devices, EU data protection chiefs claim, due to the immense privacy risk they pose to those who use them. 

Major events like the World Cup often produce apps to help visitors and fans navigate, schedule travel, and find out other things they may need to know while in attendance. Though most of the time these apps are fine, it seems not to be the case for the 2022 World Cup. 

Data protection regulators in Europe are warning about risks to user data by installing official Qatar World Cup apps to their smartphones and tablets, reportsPolitico. The warnings are headed up by claims by Germany that the data collected by the apps “goes much further” than their privacy notices state. 

One app collects data on phone calls made on a device, including the phone number, the German regulator said, while another prevents devices from sleeping. “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,” the regulator added in a statement on Tuesday. 

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Germany went as far as to urge visitors that if it is “absolutely necessary” to use the apps, that they should do it on a black phone separate from their usual device. 

Norway offered a similar warning over the access of the apps. “There is a real possibility that visitors to Qatar, and especially vulnerable groups, will be monitored by the Qatari authorities,” it said. 

Authorities in France added that fans should take “special care” with photos and videos, and to install the apps only just before leaving the country, and to delete them on arrival back home. 

French Junior Minister for Digital Jean-Noel Barrot raised privacy regulator CNIL’s guidelines in his advice. “In France, thanks to the GDPR, all applications must guarantee the fundamental rights of individuals and the protection of their data. This is not the case in Qatar,” the minister said. 

In an event marred by controversy since Qatar was awarded it in 2010, it is feared that the data collected by the apps could be used to monitor groups that the authoritarian government deems an issue. Along with a poor human rights record and the bad treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in the country, that fear could be well justified. 

Neither Qatar’s government, Apple, nor Google have commented on the privacy accusations so far.

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