Football matches land on your table thanks to augmented reality

It’s World Cup season, so that means that even articles about machine learning have to have a football angle. Today’s concession to the beautiful game is a system that takes 2D videos of matches and recreates them in 3D so you can watch them on your coffee table (assuming you have some kind of augmented reality setup, which you almost certainly don’t). It’s not as good as being there, but it might be better than watching it on TV.

The “Soccer On Your Tabletop” system takes as its input a video of a match and watches it carefully, tracking each player and their movements individually. The images of the players are then mapped onto 3D models “extracted from soccer video games,” and placed on a 3D representation of the field. Basically they cross FIFA 18 with real life and produce a sort of miniature hybrid.

Considering the source data — two-dimensional, low-resolution and in motion — it’s a pretty serious accomplishment to reliably reconstruct a realistic and reasonably accurate 3D pose for each player.

Now, it’s far from perfect. One might even say it’s a bit useless. The characters’ positions are estimated, so they jump around a bit, and the ball doesn’t really appear much, so everyone appears to just be dancing around on a field. (That’s on the to-do list.)

But the idea is great, and this is a working if highly limited first shot at it. Assuming the system could ingest a whole game based on multiple angles (it could source the footage directly from the networks), you could have a 3D replay available just minutes after the actual match concluded.

Not only that, but wouldn’t it be cool to be able to gather round a central location and watch the game from multiple angles? I’ve always thought one of the worst things about watching sports on TVs is everyone is sitting there staring in one direction, seeing the exact same thing. Letting people spread out, pick sides, see things from different angles to analyze strategies — that would be fantastic.

All we need is for someone to invent a perfect, affordable holographic display that works from all angles and we’re set.

The research is being presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in Salt Lake City, and it’s a collaboration between Facebook, Google and the University of Washington.

Spanish soccer app caught using microphone and GPS to snoop

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why an app is requesting microphone access when there doesn’t seem to be any logical reason why it should need to snoop on the sounds from your surroundings, hold that thought — and take a closer look at the T&Cs.

Because it might turn out that spying is exactly what the app makers have in mind.

To wit: La Liga, an app for fans of Spanish soccer which has been discovered using microphone access combined with the precise GPS location of Android users to listen in on people’s surroundings during match times — in a bid to catch bars that might not have a license to broadcast the match being watched. 

As surveillance capitalism goes, it’s a fiendishly creative repurposing of your users as, well, unwitting volunteer spies and snitches.

It’s also of course terrible human behavior. Behavior that has now garnered La Liga a bunch of one-star reviews for the Android app — along the lines of “this app converts you into a police whistler without you noticing!” and “it spies on you via the microphone and GPS. Rubbish. Don’t install”.

The snitch feature appears to have surfaced largely as a result of the European Union’s new data protection framework, GDPR — which requires app makers to explain more precisely what exactly they’re doing with people’s data. Ergo, La Ligo users started noticing what the app wanted to do and discussing and denouncing it on social media, where it blew up into a trending topic, as El Pais reports.

In a statement on its website responding to the snitch scandal, the league defends its actions writing that it has “a responsibility to protect the clubs and their fans” from unlicensed broadcasts being made in public places, claiming that such activity results in the loss of an estimated €150M annually from the league.

It also specifies that the feature is only deployed in its Android app — and claims it has apparently only been active since June 8. It also says it’s only used within Spain.

La Liga further claims the spying functionality is used solely for the purpose of detecting unlicensed broadcasts of soccer matches. (According to its explanation of how it works, captured audio is converted locally into an irreversible binary code — and it claims “the content of the recording will never be accessed”.)

A further technical measure implemented to limit how the feature can be used means La Liga only activates the microphone and geolocation of its app users’ mobile devices during time slots of matches in which its teams compete. So, tl;dr, the league is only spying on you to a timetable.

It also defends itself by claiming information about the spy and snitch function is provided to users in a transparent manner and people are specifically asked for their consent and can choose not to allow it or to revoke it at any time.

Although, the app’s description on the Google Play store does not include among several listed features — such as “live minute-by-minute commentary” and “schedules, scores, standings” and “real-time notifications and alerts right from kick-off” — ‘turning on your microphone to snoop on your surroundings during match times’… Funny that.

According to Google Play store stats the La Liga app has had more than 10M downloads to date.