Weather Channel App Sued, Accused of Selling Users’ Data

Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users

Notably, data privacy is increasingly becoming a cause of concern for the lawmakers with major tech companies including Facebook and Google being subjected to intensive questioning by not only by the lawmakers in the U.S. and the European Union but also governments across the globe.

The city of Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit against a subsidiary of IT giant IBM, accusing the company's popular weather app of deceptively collecting, sharing, and profiting from the location information of its users.

"To the contrary, the app misleadingly suggests that such data will be used only to provide users with 'personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts'".

The Weather App tracks users' movements in minute detail and sells this data to third parties without users' knowledge or permission, the lawsuit alleges.

The Weather Channel app, marketed as the world's most-downloaded app, is owned by IBM Corp. and operated by TWC Product and Technology LLC.

The complaint asks that TWC be stopped from "engaging in the unfair and fraudulent business acts and practices" and be assessed civil penalties - up to $2,500 for each violation of the Unfair Competition Law and up to $2,500 for each violation of the law "perpetrated against senior citizens or disabled persons".

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"TWC intentionally obscures this information" in a 10,000-word privacy policy "because it recognizes that many users would not permit the Weather Channel App to track their geolocation if they knew the true uses of that data", the complaint goes on to say. Google insisted it didn't use location data harvested from cell towers though it said it discontinued the practice.

"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.

The prosecutors in their petition have argued that the app, which is owned by IBM, unfairly manipulated the innocent app users into tracking their location in lieu of giving them personalised weather updates and alerts.

"If a company were really transparent, that first screen [in the Weather Channel app] would tell the user that their location data was being used for far more than weather", he said.

After a New York Times story exposed the practices of TWC and other tech companies sharing app users' location data, IBM stopped sharing the data with hedge funds.

Feuer told reporters Friday that the case represents a defense of Americans' privacy in a digital age where their location data is frequently stored and shared without prior knowledge. According to the lawsuit, however, the app used the data for other means, such as targeting advertising.

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