LaLiga fights back after being fined €250,000 for using fan app to catch pirates

LaLiga has been accused of illegally using its fan app to track down people pirating its content and is facing a fine of €250,000 by the Spanish Agency for Data Protection (AEPD). However, LaLiga is defending its conduct and is appealing the ruling, claiming the technology and process used is part of its overall digital rights management strategy.

LaLiga has been accused of using its app to listen in on fans conversations in order to track down illegal streaming of its content in location such as bars. In its defence, LaLiga has stated that it uses a fingerprinting technique to protect its content. While users have to give permission for the microphone to be used when they sign up for the app, the microphone is only activated during LaLiga match transmissions in five second bursts (five seconds per minute). This allows the mic to record sounds of the transmission, which are converted into binary code and then reviewed against LaLiga’s register to check for piracy.

LaLiga claimed it does not record or store conversations of its users and the technology is actually incapable of deciphering human voices. The technology is very similar to the acoustic fingerprint technology used by Shazam.

In more detail, when activating the microphone function on its official app, LaLiga reminds users that they must expressly, proactively and on two occasions, give their consent. Therefore it can be considered that the user has been suitably informed and that LaLiga cannot be accused of lack of transparency or information regarding this functionality. Users who do not give their consent can continue to use the app without any limitations.

The technology used is designed to generate only a specific sound footprint (acoustic fingerprint). This digital fingerprint only contains 0.75% of the information received, discarding the remaining 99.25%, meaning that it is technically impossible to interpret someone’s voice or human conversations. This footprint is transformed into an alphanumeric code (hash) that cannot be reverted back to the original sound.

LaLiga will go to court following the ruling of the AEPD for an alleged transparency violation when informing users of its official app about the use of the microphone’s functionality at the point of activation. The Spanish football division disagrees profoundly with the decision of the AEPD, rejects the penalty imposed as unjust, unfounded and disproportionate, and considers that the AEPD has not made the necessary efforts to understand how the technology works. As a result, it will challenge the ruling in court to demonstrate that its actions have always been responsible and in accordance with the law.

Finally, the AEPD has ordered LaLiga to introduce mechanisms that enhance the user’s knowledge when the microphone functionality is in use. The application of these modifications indicated by the AEPD will no longer be required since this functionality will no longer be used from the end of this season (30 June), as originally planned.

LaLiga stated it will continue to test and implement new technologies and innovations that allow it to improve the experience of football fans around the world and, at the same time, help it in its fight against the very serious scourge of piracy.

LaLiga stated it has complied at all times with the principles and requirements established in the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) ,the Organic Law on Data Protection and Digital Rights Guarantees (LOPDGDD)and has acted within the guidelines published to date by the relevant control authorities, including the AEPD.

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