Wednesday, 20 March, 2019

Lawsuit: Popular Weather App Deceived Users

Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users LA attorney sues The Weather Channel, says its mobile app improperly gathers user location data
Lloyd Bates | 07 January, 2019, 07:31

"For years, [the Weather Channel] 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, '" Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer writes in the lawsuit.

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, the LA official behind the lawsuit, said TWC allegedly sends user location information to affiliates of its parent company, IBM, and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes, in many cases unrelated to weather forecasts.

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. "Unbeknownst to its users, TWC's core business is amassing and profiting from user location data".

"If the price of getting the weather forecast is the sacrifice of your most personal info about where you spend your time, you need to be clearly told in advance", Feuer said. Should 1 million Californians use the app, Feuer's demand of $2,500 per violation amounts to a demand for a fine of at least $2.5 billion.

In 2018, the Associated Press published similar claims about Google while the ACLU accused Facebook of tracking people without permission.

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties up to $2,500 for each violation by the Weather Channel.

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The 15-page complaint accuses TWC of violating California's Unfair Competition Law through "fraudulent and deceptive business acts and practices", primarily by failing to disclose the uses to which it put its customers' personal information.

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

An IBM spokesman told the Times that the Weather Company has "always been transparent with use of location data" and that the businesses will "vigorously" defend their disclosures.

Feuer filed the lawsuit in response to a December report from The New York Times, which said mobile apps can get away with collecting your location data without offering much notice.

Two years ago, AccuWeather was caught sending user location data, even when location sharing was off, a practice it continued even after being publicly exposed. Instead, according to the complaint, the app sells the data for ad-targeting purposes.

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