LA suing IBM-owned Weather Channel over user location tracking

05 January, 2019, 22:22 | Author: Brooke Harris
  • Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users

The Weather Channel app is the top app in the App Store's weather category and counts more than 100 million user downloads.

In a new lawsuit filed this week (PDF), the city of Los Angeles alleges that the Weather Channel app has deceived its users into sharing their location with the IBM-owned company for weather data but instead has been amassing their personal location data for profit.

"If the price of getting a weather report is going to be the sacrifice of your most personal information about where you spend your time day and night", Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer told The New York Times, "you sure as heck ought to be told clearly in advance".

Feuere said TWC Product and Technology sold user data to several websites and other companies that track user data and behavioral patterns.

IBM bought the app along with the digital assets of The Weather Company in 2015 for $2 billion but did not acquire The Weather Channel seen on TV, which is owned by another company.

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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.

"Unfortunately, TWC takes advantage of its app's widespread popularity by using it as an intrusive tool to mine users' private geolocation data, which TWC then sends to IBM affiliates and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or the Weather Channel App's services", the complaint said. "We're acting to stop this alleged deceit".

The lawsuit follows a report last month in the New York Times that delved into the extent to which mobile apps gather location data without adequate disclosure and a year of scrutiny of Facebook over its sharing of user data with partners and developers.

In one case, users" location data was used "to target McDonald's McCafé coffee offerings toward millennials who-according to that geolocation data-frequented "breakfast-style diners, '" the complaint said.

Hundreds of popular apps are collecting location data that they claim is anonymous, but further analysis shows it can be easily linked to specific users. Google insisted it didn't use location data harvested from cell towers though it said it discontinued the practice. Feuer said it's premature to discuss how much a potential penalty might be. These weather often keep a track of our location in order to provide us the most accurate weather updates they can.

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