Spain Data Watchdog Probes Soccer League's Spying With Phones

(Bloomberg) -- Spain’s data-protection watchdog begun a probe into an app that enables the country’s soccer league to access users’ personal mobile phones to spy on bars that show games illegally.

La Liga -- which features Barcelona and Real Madrid -- said that it can activate the GPS and microphones on phones of users who have downloaded its app to capture fragments of audio in binary code. The aim is to crack down on establishments that illegally broadcast games, a violation that costs the sport 150 million euros ($177 million) in Spain, it said in a statement on its website.

The watchdog, known as AEPD, said on Twitter that it has begun a preliminary probe into the app. EU privacy laws -- in force since May 25 -- give regulators across Europe real teeth and the power to levy sanctions of as much as 4 percent of a company’s global annual sales for the most serious violations.

La Liga said users of its app have to accept the utilization of the microphone for the app’s monitoring to work on their phone.

“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,” the league said in the statement. “But the content of the recording will never be accessed.”

The user is reminded periodically that the microphone and GPS can be activated and is asked to confirm consent, La Liga said.

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