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Spain's La Liga soccer league can listen for illegal streams through smartphone mics

The La Liga soccer league has drawn criticism after it emerged that its app now uses smartphone microphones to listen for illegal streams.

Published onJune 12, 2018

A La Liga football game.
  • The La Liga soccer league has drawn criticism after it emerged that its app now uses smartphone microphones to listen for illegal streams.
  • Spain’s top league claims that users need to give permission for the feature, which also uses your phone’s location functionality.
  • The nation’s data protection agency has confirmed that it’s investigating the app update.

Spain’s top-flight La Liga soccer league is under investigation for using smartphone microphones and geolocation services to crack down on illegal streams.

The league published an update to its La Liga Android app on June 8, Bloomberg reported, allowing it to listen to smartphone microphones in order to catch bars and other establishments illegally showing games.

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La Liga has since detailed the changes on its website (translated version), saying users need to give permission for the app to use their microphone and geolocation functionality. Spain’s top soccer league says it’ll periodically remind users of the functionality and ask them to confirm consent. The post adds that recording and geolocation functionality is only used during La Liga matches.

The league tried to allay privacy concerns, claiming the recorded audio is converted into binary code (which is then compared to its own database).

“Only if the user decides to accept it, the microphone will capture the binary code of fragments of audio, with the sole aim of being able to know if soccer games are being watched in competitions participated in by La Liga teams,” it said in a statement via Bloomberg. “But the content of the recording will never be accessed.”

In any event, the feature also raises the question of whether individual users can be targeted too, not just bar owners. Surely the app team can cross-reference stream locations with paying customers, sussing out a person at home watching on an illicit stream?

A mixed reaction to update

The audio recording capabilities aren’t a pure anti-piracy measure either, as it also allows La Liga to conduct market research into soccer viewing, according to its terms of use (spotted by El Diaro).

In the wake of the update, several users have taken to publishing one-star reviews on the Play Store, decrying what they call “spying” by the league.

Nevertheless, the country’s data protection agency confirmed on Twitter that it was investigating the app update. The news is especially pertinent due to the recent shift to the GDPR privacy regulation in the European Union.

What do you think of the app update? Would you allow an app to listen to you in the name of fighting piracy? Let us know in the comments below.

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