Los Angeles sues Weather Channel, alleging it sold app users' data

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

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

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The lawsuit was filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who is representing the people of the state of California.

About 80 percent of Weather Channel app users grant access to their geolocation data, and their movements are tracked "in minute detail", the complaint said.

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"TWC has then profited from that data, using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App".

"The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data", an IBM spokesperson told The New York Times. He says that users unwittingly agreed to further use of this data because details about how the app operator meant to use it were buried deep in a lengthy privacy policy document.

Feuer said the app's operators, TWC Product and Technology LLC, sold data to at least a dozen websites for targeted ads and to hedge funds that used the information to analyze consumer behavior.

City Attorney Michael Feuer said Friday that users of the popular app are misled to think their location data will only be used for personalized forecasts and alerts. "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". These weather often keep a track of our location in order to provide us the most accurate weather updates they can. "In fact, unbeknownst to its users, TWC's core business is amassing and profiting from user location data".

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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.

The City of Los Angeles, which filed the suit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks penalties up to $2,500 per violation, and wants the company to halt practices the city calls "unfair and fraudulent".

About 75 companies receive precise location data from apps whose users enable location services and several of those businesses say they track up to 200 million devices in the U.S. The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a lot to say about companies that take people's personal data for one objective but use it for another, and fines stretch as high as 4% of global revenue.

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