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

Roman Schwartz
January 7, 2019

The complaint claims information about the company's practices are "intentionally" obscured "because it recognizes that many users would not permit the Weather Channel App to track their geolocation if they knew the true uses of that data". Indeed, it has been reported that TWC considers itself "a location data company powered by weather'".

The lawsuit, which references a recent Times report on location-tracking practices, argues that the Weather Channel app's messages to users were "fraudulent and deceptive" and potentially violate California's Unfair Competition Law.

The suit alleges that IBM subsidiary The Weather Company, the outfit behind the app, used the program to "amass its users' private, personal geolocation data" while making users believe their data was used only to provide accurate local weather forecasts.

That's in contrast to what app users are told when asked for permission to turn on location tracking. In the complaint, attorney Michael Feuer said he hopes the case will prove to "be the catalyst for other action" around better guarding consumers' personal information.

The data serves no weather-related objective, but was only collected in order to allow TWC to turn a profit, the complaint reads. Whether you own an Android device or an iPhone, these apps help us deciding if we should keep an umbrella handy or if the day is going to be sunny side up.

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'In fact, unbeknownst to its users, TWC's core business is amassing and profiting from user location data, ' it continues. "TWC then proceeds to track those users' movements in minute detail". TWC contends that it possesses the "world's largest continuous set of 1st party place data [i.e., geolocation data]".

In response, an IBM spokesman said: "The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously".

TWC and its affiliates use a system to understand "rituals" and "consumers' patterns of behavior" in order to "monetize this trove of personal geolocation data", the complaint said. Instead, according to the complaint, the app sells the data for ad-targeting purposes. Anxieties over myriad state-level laws like the CCPA has recently led some organizations, including the Association of National Advertisers, to push for a comprehensive federal law that could lessen compliance burdens and legal complexities around data collection.

The Times looked at 20 apps that collect location data and found that popular ones, including the Weather Channel, GasBuddy, theScore and others didn't properly notify users of how their data would be managed.

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