Lawsuit Accuses Weather Channel App Of Misleading Users And Profiting From Their Location Data

Lawsuit Accuses Weather Channel App Of Misleading Users And Profiting From Their Location Data

More than a couple weather apps have recently come under fire for their handling of user data, either by collecting too much or allegedly tracking users without their permission.

Now, the maker of yet another popular weather app is being accused by the city attorney of Los Angeles of deceiving millions of users and profiting from their location data.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday, according to the New York Times, which has been reporting on the app’s alleged misdeeds.

As part of a larger investigation last month into the practice of companies tracking user location data for profit, the Times reported that the Weather Channel app — part of the Weather Company, which was acquired by IBM in 2015 — didn’t “explicitly disclose that the company had also analysed the data for hedge funds.”

While the app did disclose how some user data would be used in its privacy policy and privacy settings, it did not alert users in a prompt used to gain access to their location data.

“For years, TWC 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 ‘personalised local weather data, alerts and forecasts,’” the lawsuit states. “TWC has then profited from that data, using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App.”

A mobile phone with The Weather Channel app location preference page is seen Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Image: Brian Melley, AP)

The lawsuit claims the app does not adequately disclose to users that their data will be shared with third parties or for purposes other than providing up-to-date weather and forecasts. The suit further alleges that the app’s “failure to alert its users that their personal information will be transferred to others for profit is no mere oversight,” and that the company’s “core business” is collecting user location data for profit. The Weather Company denies any wrongdoing.

“The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously,” a spokesperson for IBM told Gizmodo in a statement by email.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer tweeted Friday that with the lawsuit, officials want to prevent others from engaging in similar alleged behaviour. During a press conference, Feuer said that “the issue of privacy in the digital age is one of the most fundamental issues” currently faced by Americans.

The Weather Channel is among a growing list of weather apps that have been accused of engaging in shady data practices. Last year, security researcher Will Strafach alleged that AccuWeather was sharing user location data with its partner Reveal Mobile even if users opted out of sharing their location information.

And earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that popular app Weather Forecast – World Weather Accurate Radar, available for Android, was collecting an “unusual amount” of user data, including location, email addresses, and International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers.

It’s a good reminder that users should practice a healthy amount of scepticism about which apps they share their information with—particularly, as Feuer noted, ones as seemingly “benign” and “innocuous” as an app for weather.

[New York Times via Engadget]