The 2022 World Cup is upon us, and millions of fans around the world are traveling to Qatar to attend the competition. Such a spectacle should be basked in – and what better way to relive the moment than to take pictures and videos with your phone? Not in this case, not during the 2022 World Cup, and definitely, not in Qatar.
In case you don’t know, those visiting the country for the World Cup must download two mobile applications – Hayya (the official World Cup app) and Ehteraz (the Covid-tracking app). Otherwise, they will be denied entry. On the surface, this might seem very normal. Well, based on Qatar’s history with data retention laws – it’s not.
Several security firms are advising users to travel with burner phones. Why is Qatar doing this? How are these official applications pulling off their spyware practices? We’ve discussed everything below.
Qatar World Cup – Two Apps, One Spying Job
Just like most Arabian countries, Qatar has a very high level of Internet censorship. In fact, the country has been doing a great job in limiting the content that its citizens are able to access online.
To do so, traffic monitoring is highly implemented. From blocking VOIP apps to terminating several websites, visiting Qatar surely doesn’t scream “Internet Freedom.”
Now, according to several security researchers, the country has kicked it up a notch by introducing two applications that act like Spyware. Unfortunately, it’s using the World Cup to make use of them.
Statistics show that Qatar spent $220 billion to host nearly 1.5 million visitors this November. All of these foreigners are prompted to download two applications in order to attend the competition.
Hayya, the official World Cup app, allows users to keep track of match tickets and access the free Metro in Qatar.
The other application would be Ehteraz – the Covid-19 tracking app. In other words, the worst among the two.
The warning comes straight from France’s influential data protection authority CNIL. It’s urging Qatar visitors to take extra precautions to protect themselves from the Qatar World Cup apps’ snooping.
According to a spokesperson for CNIL:
“Special care should be taken with photos, videos, or digital works that could place you in difficulty with respect to the legislation of the country visited. Ideally, travel with a blank smartphone … or an old phone that has been reset.”
Such recommendations don’t just come from out of the blue. There’s a reason for that, and NRK was more than happy to elaborate on the matter.
An In-Depth Analysis
We all know that Qatar implements very strict data retention laws. But where do these apps fit in all of this? Here’s how NRK’s head of security Øyvind Vasaasen explains it.
It’s all in the permissions the two apps ask for. First, we have to start with the Hayya application as it’s the least worrying of the two. Hayya will ask for some permissions, but none of them is out of the ordinary.
When you install the Hayya app, you’ll be prompted to allow it access to your personal information with almost no restrictions. Not only that, but you’ll also have to allow it to access the phone’s exact location.
The worst thing about Hayya is that it prevents the device from going into sleep mode and monitors its network connections.
As for the Ehteraz app, this is where things get really intrusive. This one asks for way too many permissions that don’t even make sense. This should be a Covid-19 tracking app, but it’s definitely tracking a lot of other things.
Once you install Ehteraz, it’ll ask for permission to read, delete or change all content on the phone. Also, it asks for full access to WiFi and Bluetooth, as well as to prevent the device from going to sleep mode and override other apps.
Oh no, it doesn’t stop here – Ehteraz has a lot more to do. Aside from every task above, the application also receives an overview of your exact location, can make direct calls via your phone, and disable your screen lock.
These are a lot of permissions to ask for, which makes you wonder why Qatar is putting that much effort into this. Well, it’s Qatar, and it’s one of the toughest countries when it comes to online freedom.
Burner Phones, Smoother World Cup
Data collection is a habit most countries tend to implement. We have to note that Qatar does have its oppression, it does limit online freedom, and of course, it forbids a lot of activities.
However, if you’ve never heard of the Five Eyes, you’ve never seen what actual data collection looks like. The World Cup kicks off on November 20th, 2022.
If you cherish your online privacy, make sure to have either a burner phone or an empty one. Not only that, but traveling to Qatar requires extra precautions, especially in the online department. That’s why using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is always recommended.