LA sues Weather Channel, alleging it sold app users’ data

Dwayne Harmon
January 7, 2019

When asking users for permission to turn on location tracking, the iOS and Android app does not "give users any reason to believe that their location data will be used for anything other than personalized local weather data, alerts, and forecasts", the lawsuit said. Specifically, the information has reportedly been given to IBM (the company that owns TWC) affiliates for advertising and market research purposes. "If you want to sacrifice to that company that information, you sure ought to be doing it with clear advanced notice of what's at stake", Michael Feuer, said according to a report by the Associated Press. "This app seems to be benign; how many of you would suspect that to get a weather app, we would be tracked 24/7?" In a tweet, he said he was taking "action against one of America's largest corporations for what we allege is egregious behavior".

Location tracking is a particularly contested area when it comes to data-sharing: Businesses value the ability to use geographic information to cater relevant messages to nearby consumers - an increasingly pressing issue in the industry, as marketing personalization often comes up short - but collection practices can be especially invasive in regulators' eyes and come off as creepy to users.

TWC, according to the complaint, has been able to convince about 80 per cent of users to grant access to geolocation data.

More than 1,000 apps contain location-sharing code created by companies who share it with advertisers.

At least it asked. But even these "sections of the app are less than forthcoming regarding TWC's uses of geolocation data", with the advertising usage described vaguely and "scattered through various sections of the almost 10,000-word Privacy Policy", the complaint said. IBM has actively worked to paint itself as having better data practices than consumer platforms like Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.

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"The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data", an IBM spokesperson told The New York Times.

Feuer told reporters Friday that the case represents a defense of Americans' privacy in a digital age where their location data is frequently stored and shared without prior knowledge.

"The disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously".

The complaint, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks civil penalties and an injunction barring the Weather Channel "from engaging in these prohibited business practices", which allegedly violate California's Unfair Competition Law.

Marketed as the "world's most downloaded weather app", The Weather Channel app claims approximately 45 million users a month, the lawsuit said.

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