Increasingly appearing as a pointer to authoritarian governments, spyware phone apps mandatorily installed on the devices of visitors just arriving at the airport are resurfacing in Qatar as it hosts World Cup soccer matches.
According to Norwegian authorities:
“Everyone travelling to Qatar during the World Cup will be asked to download two apps called Ehteraz and Hayya.
In short, Ehteraz is a COVID-19 tracking app, while Hayya is an official World Cup app used to keep track of match tickets and access the free Qatar Metro.
In particular, the COVID-19 Ehteraz app requests access to several mobile phone access rights, such as access to read, delete or modify all content on your phone, as well as access to automatically connect to certain WiFi and Bluetooth networks, override other apps and prevent your phone from going into standby mode.
The Ehteraz app, which everyone over 18 who comes to Qatar must download, also gets a number of other accesses, such as an overview of your exact location, the ability to make direct calls through your phone, and the ability to disable screen lock.
The Hayya app doesn’t ask for that much, but it also has a number of critical aspects. Among other things, the app requires access to share your personal information with almost no restrictions. In addition, the Hayya app provides access to determine the exact location of your phone, prevent your device from going into sleep mode, and view your phone’s network connections.“
With such permissions, plus the option to block the phone from entering standby, the COVID pandemic management app might as well be renamed “tape recorder” and plugged directly into local spy agencies as a listening device. Further, the Hayya app, dedicated to the football event, could be considered a step-by-step monitoring tool, transmitting real-time GPS coordinates for each visitor arriving for the football championship.
As there is no possibility to refuse the installation of such apps, people planning to visit Qatar are encouraged (at least for the duration of the World Cup) to use “sacrificial” phones, freshly brought to factory settings and shielded from any communications or data that might arouse suspicion.