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

Muriel Colon
January 7, 2019

IBM, which acquired the app in 2015, told the Verge: 'The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously'.

The city of Los Angeles has sued to stop the operator of The Weather Channel's mobile phone application from allegedly "covertly mining the private data of users and selling the information to third parties, including advertisers". It says the app does not tell people about these other uses, instead misleadingly claiming that the data will only be used for "personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts".

The lawsuit was filed electronically Thursday, but not time-stamped under L.A. Superior Court's new mandatory e-filing system.

"For years, TWC has deceptively used its Weather Channel App to amass its users" private, personal geolocation data - tracking minute details about its users' locations throughout the day and night, all the while leading users to believe that their data will only be used to provide them with "personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts, '" the complaint reads. While the app's privacy policy does note that data could be used for targeted advertising and might be shared with "partners", California's lawsuit argues users have no reason to look there since the prompt doesn't even suggest their data will be used in those ways.

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.

The Weather Channel app was the most downloaded weather app in the world between 2014 to 2018, with an average of 45 million monthly users.

"If the cost of a weather forecast will be the sacrifice of deeply private information - like precisely where we are, day and night - it must be clear, in advance", said Feuer in a statement.

Feuer said he hopes the case inspires other lawsuits and legislation to curb data-sharing practices.

Feuer seeks the injunction and penalties "to punish TWC for its egregious conduct and to deter TWC from engaging in the same or similar conduct in the future". According to TWC, it collects more than one billion pieces of location data per week, thus tracking users' personal data with "unmatched accuracy and precision". The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a lot to say about companies that take people's personal data for one goal but use it for another, and fines stretch as high as 4% of global revenue.

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