Consumer Protection (2005)

FIFA World Cup 2006

The organising committee for the soccer World Cup within the German football association (Deutscher Fussballbund, DFB) - represented by Mr Franz Beckenbauer earns a BigBrotherAward for the inquisitorial questions asked in ticket application forms, for their plans of sharing customer data with FIFA and its sponsors, and for the use of RFID spychips in the tickets and thus the attempt to make this surveillance technology acceptable - directly benefiting a World Cup sponsor (RFID producer Philips).
Rena Tangens am Redner.innenpult der BigBrotherAwards 2021.
Rena Tangens, Digitalcourage

The BigBrotherAward in the category "Consumer Protection" goes to FIFA World Cup 2006 Organisational Committee for Germany of the DFB (the German Football Association), represented by Franz Beckenbauer, for the inquisitiveness of their questionnaires required for ordering tickets for the World Championship, for planning to pass on addresses to FIFA and their sponsors and for the use of RFID spychips in World Cup tickets, and the resulting attempt to make control surveillance technology more acceptable, for the benefit of World Cup sponsor and RFID producer Philips.

Indeed, it was quite predictable that the World Cup committee would receive a Big Brother Award. Already in 2003, the spychipped ticket for the 2006 World Cup was listed as a candidate. But at the time the jury decided in favour of Metro's "Future Store" field experiment, as the spychips were already in operation there. The Big Brother Award for the Metro had global repercussions: since then, RFID producers are facing the critics.

In 2004, the World Cup organising committee was back on the BBA list of candidates, as more details had become known to the jury, but we didn't want to be a bore and center on yet another RFID-related topic. "2006 is a long way off", we thought, "we can still do something a year from now".

But after presenting the awards one year ago, we suddenly had to realise that the World Cup surveillance scenario was much closer than we had thought. The association of active football fans (Bündnis Aktiver Fußballfans, BAFF) brought to our attention that the sale of tickets was only three months away, starting in February 2005. Lacking greatly in the area of football enthusiasm ourselves, we would almost have missed the impending data protection catastrophe ....

To the facts: Whoever wants to buy a ticket has to apply for it, and an application is about details. Personal details: Name. Address. Childhood diseases ... No, not diseases. But: Date of birth, phone number, nationality and supported football nation. - Excuse me? In Germany? 60 years after the end of the war, 60 years after whole ethnic groups have been killed in German concentration camps, a German company is really asking for my nationality in a questionnaire and enquiring for which nationality my heart beats? I am Greek and think the Turkish team is cool? I have an American passport and cheer for the Saudi-Arabian team? ...

And why, for example, would they need my date of birth? That's useless for ticket ordering, but - it is of greatest interest for marketing.

Who needs these details? Who is seeing them and what will happen with them? Well, in any case, they are going to FIFA1, the international football association, who will pass them to their sponsors, such as Coca Cola, Mastercard, Gillette, Philips, the Airline of the United Arab Emirates, the Telekom, McDonalds, etc etc.

Sociologist Richard Sennett says that modern capitalism is essentially anti-democratic. It favours what he has called a "soft kind of fascism". According to Sennett, dictatorship is moving into modern politics, which is now leading to arbitrary and authoritarian decisions, disregarding completely what the majority of people may think.2

But actually this isn't about people at all. "It's all about security", says the World Cup Organisational Committee. And that's why all those who might be interested in a ticket are even required to specify the number of their ID or passport. However: collecting and processing these numbers is unlawful, according to German jurisdiction, because the law prohibits the use of the ID card's serial number as a personal identification key. But that hardly troubled the World Cup Committee of the German football association, DFB.

And obviously, the Committee felt quite safe in its improper use of personal details, because the Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily himself, is a member of the World Cup Organisational Committee and backed the use of the ID numbers, perhaps even requested it. The passport numbers will be stored in a database and can then be linked to the number on the RFID chip that is part of the tickets.

Both Otto Schily and the DFB were awarded "The Closed Clam", a negative award from the journalists' association "network research", for not answering questions that implied criticism. When FoeBuD roused publicity just in time before the sale of tickets opened and many journalists tried to put their questions to the Committee and the Ministry of the Interior, they met with the same deep silence. No interviews. No comment.

Even a caution by the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, vzbv, regarding serious defects in the questionnaires only made the DFB react when the association threatened them with a temporary injunction that would have closed down the sale of tickets.

Now, the DFB has agreed to a half-hearted compromise. Customers now have to expressly agree to having their details used for marketing purposes, but the illegal obligation to enter one's ID number remains. Just as illegally, unnecessary details are still being asked, and everybody applying for a ticket still has to include ID numbers of friends or family members if they want to order more than one ticket.

Vocal criticism has also come from the Data Protection Commissioner's Office of the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein. They have taken on FoeBuD's complaints and published a critical legal assessment. Here is a summary by Dr. Thilo Weichert:

"The World Cup is being used as a huge surveillance project that is to facilitate total control over football fans. However, this increase in surveillance will hardly achieve more security. (...) At the same time, the ticket procedures attempt to make the use of RFID technology, the use of spychips socially acceptable. RFID are useful in logistics, but using them on people is anything but helpful for data protection and privacy. Also, the application form asks for more details than are necessary. (...) As there is no other way to obtain tickets, football fans are faced with the alternative of either giving away their personal details or missing the World Cup. Apparently, the DFB is more interested in marketing the fan as a commodity than in him enjoying the game."

It is a fateful trend that services are increasingly made to depend on citizens' presenting themselves as transparent customers. It is the arrogance of an increasingly totalitarian system to force personally identifiable tickets on customers.

The continual chants of "security aspects" that we have are exposed to as justification for this new law and that latest measure are nothing short of a farce. If football matches today are indeed such a security risk that they can only be hosted by totalitarian states, then football fans will just have to travel to such states for their passion. We do not wish for a state that, using constant threats of vague dangers of terrorism, is forcing us to relinquish civil rights and restrict ourselves to inconspicuous behaviour.

To collect personal details on the application form creates no security. The RFID chip in the ticket emits a radio signal so fans can be tracked and movement profiles constructed - but it gives us no rise in security (it probably just helps to raise the ticket price on the black market). Obviously, the World Cup Organising Committee know that as well.

Here is an original quote from an interview between a journalist and one of FIFA's highest-ranking IT specialists: "Why do you need RFID?" - "Because Philips is our sponsor." - "Are there any technical advantages with these chips?" - "Philips is our sponsor. Please ask their representative."2

With this World Cup, an attempt is being made to use tickets, desirable as they are to all fans, as a lever to establish RFID technology in Germany - after all, the RFID reading devices are hardly going to be dismantled after the end of the tournament. Thus, a potentially far-reaching surveillance and control system is made acceptable to the public - with the football fan as guinea pig.

And you, Mr Beckenbauer, keep holding your face into every camera for that, too.

As a result, you're now popular even with the Big Brother Awards. By numbers alone, you have reached second place in our nomination charts. But that is no reason for joy, for every nomination is a red card - pointed at you by German football fans.

Heartfelt congratulations, dear DFB, dear World Cup Organising Committee, and dear Franz Beckenbauer.


Rena Tangens am Redner.innenpult der BigBrotherAwards 2021.
Rena Tangens, Digitalcourage

1 Fédération Internationale de Football Association

2 You can find the interview here, albeit in the German translation [Content no langer available]

For more information (only German sites, unfortunately):

About BigBrotherAwards

In a compelling, entertaining and accessible format, we present these negative awards to companies, organisations, and politicians. The BigBrotherAwards highlight privacy and data protection offenders in business and politics, or as the French paper Le Monde once put it, they are the “Oscars for data leeches”.

Organised by (among others):

BigBrother Awards International (Logo)

BigBrotherAwards International

The BigBrotherAwards are an international project: Questionable practices have been decorated with these awards in 19 countries so far.