City of LA sues Weather Channel app for sharing location data with advertisers

IBM-owned app maker accused of sharing user location data with affiliates of its parent company and other advertisers, but also hiding the practice in a 10,000-word-long privacy policy.

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Image: ZDNet

Today, the city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against the makers of the hugely popular Weather Channel app for "covertly mining the private data of users and selling the information to third parties, including advertisers."

The lawsuit, available in full detail here, was announced in a press conference today and targets IBM-owned TWC Product and Technology, LLC (TWC), the company behind the Weather Channel app.

The lawsuit claims the Weather Channel mobile app, for both Android and iOS, uses deceptive tactics to trick users into granting access to geolocation information.

"When seeking consent for geolocation tracking, the app does not reference or link to any other sections of the app for more information on that topic, or 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.

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.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that TWC intentionally masks this business practice by scattering information about its data-sharing practice among a long-winded 10,000-word Privacy Policy.

But in an emailed statement, IBM denied the lawsuit's claims.

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

Feuer and the city of LA are now seeking a court injunction that would prohibit TWC from continuing its practice of sharing user location data with partners, but also civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation.

The lawsuit cites some statistics, claiming the Weather Channel app is used by 45 million users a month, with 80 percent of users allowing the app access to geolocation information.

The Weather Channel app is not the first weather-related mobile app caught collecting and sharing users' geolocation data. 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.

Feuer was previously involved in the legal proceedings surrounding the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal. Feuer's today Weather Channel-related press conference is embedded below.

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