Spain’s soccer league fined for app that listened for illegal broadcasts in bars

The application from La Liga would use the device’s microphone to detect TVs showing matches, which would then be crosschecked against establishments with the proper rights

Ramón Muñoz
The official La Liga application.
The official La Liga application.

Spain’s AEPD data protection agency has slapped a €250,000 fine on Spain’s top soccer league after failing to adequately inform users about what its cellphone application would do after accessing the device’s microphone. La Liga had installed a functionality within the app that was being used to detect whether soccer matches were being broadcast in bars and other establishments via a pirated signal. La Liga has announced that it will be appealing the fine.

La Liga’s application was designed to offer users all of the Spanish soccer results online, as well as providing information about First and Second Division teams. But other functions, such as the use of the microphone to detect the sound of television broadcasts – in a similar way to song-identifying applications such as Shazam – had also been included. Given that the application from La Liga also tracked the geolocation of the user, the data collected could be compiled and crosschecked in order to determine if the establishment the user was in was paying the proper cable television fees to broadcast the game in question.

La Liga has stated that it will launch its appeal against the fine

The AEPD has concluded that La Liga committed a very serious infraction in terms of transparency by not informing users that the application would make use of the microphone on their smartphone in a bid to combat piracy. As well as the fine, the AEPD has instructed La Liga to introduce mechanisms that will properly inform the user when the microphone is being activated.

La Liga has stated that it will launch its appeal against the fine on the basis that the AEPD “has not made the necessary effort to understand how the technology works.” La Liga also believes that its app meets all of the principles and requirements set out in Spain’s data protection laws.

La Liga explains that the technology used in the app is designed to generate a mere “acoustic fingerprint”

In its appeal, La Liga explains that the technology used in the app is designed to generate a mere “acoustic fingerprint,” which contains just 0.75% of the information that is picked up, meaning that it is technically impossible to understand or record voices from human conversations.

This fingerprint is converted into an alphanumeric code, which cannot then be translated back into sound. La Liga also explains that the technology has been backed up by an independent report that, among other arguments, concludes that the technology “does not allow for the knowledge of the content of any conversation, nor can it identify its potential speakers.”

What’s more, it argues, this mechanism “does not store the information captured by the mobile’s microphone,” and the “information captured by the microphone of the mobile phone is subject to a complex process of transformation, the result of which is irreversible.”

According to La Liga, the technology was implemented to achieve a legitimate aim

According to La Liga, the technology was implemented to achieve a legitimate aim of monitoring the preservation of the audiovisual sales and exploitation rights of its content and combating piracy, which is thought to cost it around €400 million a year.

La Liga has also announced that the functionality of the microphone will stop being used at the end of the current season (June 30), as was initially planned, although the organization has stated that it will continue to test and implement new technologies and innovations to fight against piracy.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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