The 2022 FIFA World Cup will kick off in just a few days, but European cybersecurity experts are urging sports fans traveling to Qatar to think twice before downloading the event’s official apps. Authorities of Germany, Norway and France all recently issued warnings on the nation’s ticketing and accommodation app, Hayya, as well as its COVID-19 contact tracing app, Ehteraz, citing highly suspicious levels of access to personal data requested from each. According to their listings on the Google Play Store, Hayya is available under the banner of Qatar’s Supreme Surrender and Inheritance Committee, while Ehteraz is owned by the Home Ministry.
Both apps, which Qatar reportedly requires for access to World Cup events, require private information that far exceeds the regulations of European nations on fundamental human rights and data protection. These permission grants include the ability to accumulate phone call metadata, which is often used to pinpoint the geographic location and other device fingerprints. The apps also prevent users’ phones from going into sleep mode, thus preventing messages and phone calls from being disabled or silenced. Both Hayya and Ehteraz could potentially transmit phone data to a central server instead of letting it remain locally on devices, making that information susceptible to third-party tracking.
[Related: Egypt’s official COP27 app may be greenwashed spyware.]
“We are alarmed by the broad access required by apps,” the Norwegian Data Protection Authority said in a statement translated from Norwegian provided by Information Security Media Group, a media company focused on information security, risk management, privacy and fraud. The data protection authority also added that “there is a real possibility that visitors to Qatar, and particularly vulnerable groups, will be monitored by the Qatari authorities.”
As a potential workaround, experts suggest that World Cup attendees ostensibly bring a blank phone just to download Hayya and Ehteraz, to limit any private data that local authorities could potentially access. Information Security Media Group also advises against connecting standard visitor phones to open Wi-Fi networks.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have expressed concern over FIFA’s 2010 decision to host the World Cup in Qatar for years, citing its history of migrant labor abuses, intensely discriminatory LGBTQ+ laws and various other issues. autocratic. The World Cup takes place from 20 November to 18 December.