City Attorney: Weather Channel App Uses Illegal Tactics to Share User Data

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has accused the operators of the Weather Channel's popular mobile app of using illegal tactics to secretly profit from the precise geolocation data of users by selling it to advertisers and marketing companies.

A Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Thursday by Feuer alleges the Weather Company, which operates the app, used deceptive practices to mislead users into believing their location would only be used to provide accurate weather reports.

“We brought this lawsuit because we allege that the app covertly mines the private data of its users, and then it sends that information to third parties, like advertisers, and others, “ Feuer said during a Friday news conference at City Hall East to discuss the lawsuit.

He added, “Think how Orwellian it feels to live in a world where a private company is tracking potentially every place you go, every minute of every day.”

The Weather Channel app has around 45 million average monthly users and is operated by the Weather Company, which is owned by IBM, although IBM does not own the actual network.

“For years, (the Weather Company) 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 weather forecasts,”' the lawsuit says. “TWC has then profited from that data, using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App.”

Feuer said a disclosure about the company sharing location data with partners is buried in the fine print of a 10,000 word privacy section.

“There's a California law that says fine print alone can't make good what otherwise has been obscured. And the bottom line here is that no American should be held to the standard of having to pour through that 10,000 word privacy policy here, where in the first instance, the first screen gives no indication that is something they should be required to do,” Feuer said.

An IBM spokesman, Saswato Das, told The New York Times the Weather Company “has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously.”

According to the lawsuit, the app can track the location of its users with extreme precision, and the data was shared with IBM affiliates “and other third parties for advertising and commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or the Weather Channel App's services.” The purposes ranged from hedge funds interested in consumer behavior to McDonald's McCafe coffee offerings, the lawsuit says.

Feuer said the company stopped sharing information with hedge funds following a story last month by The Times that highlighted the practice.

The lawsuit argues the Weather Company violated the Unfair Competition Law by engaging in a number of fraudulent business acts and practices, and seeks up to $2,500 in damages per violation of every California user of the app, making the potential legal cost in the millions or billions.

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