Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Sam Rutherford in Gizmodo on how Spain’s Biggest Football App Reportedly Turned Fans Into Unwitting Narcs:

The La Liga app, which is the official streaming app for Spain’s most popular football league, has reportedly been using the microphones on fans’ phones to root out unauthorized broadcasts of matches in public venues like bars and restaurants. It sounds exactly like the kind of surveillance people are afraid of when it comes to modern technology, but as is often the case, the La Liga app technically asks users in Spain for permission to access their mics, according to Spanish Website El Diario.

After downloading the La Liga app, it presents Spanish users with two options: a standard terms-of-service agreement, and a second, opt-in permission that gives La Liga consent to activate your device’s mic and even turn on GPS to help pinpoint the location of unlicensed broadcasts. However, according to the report, the only way you’d know that is by reading the fine print that accompanies the permissions—which no one ever does. Even more troubling, it seems this behavior has been going on for a while, and only recently has been brought back to light thanks to Europe’s new GDPR online privacy laws.

First, it’s nice that modern smartphone platforms have a structured permissions system through which users can grant—and deny—apps access to certain sensors on the phone. The app I use to take notes or write emails doesn’t need access to my GPS coordinates, for example. That was not always the case, and this is definitely an area where smartphone manufacturers have done a good job protecting their consumers.

Second, it makes much more sense for the Googles and Facebooks of the world to offer this kind of surveillance as a service to copyright holders than for companies like La Liga to try to freelance this thing. While El Diario mentions the La Liga app has been downloaded more than 10 million times, that’s still a small fraction of the overall smartphone base.

For example, YouTube scans uploaded videos for copyrighted content, but that might be a result of its tortured history with copyright holders as much as anything else. It’s unclear to me how the La Ligas of the world would convince Google to turn every Android phone into a copyright informant.