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

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

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

The Weather Company, which operates the app, vigorously denied the allegations.

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.

People relied on the most popular mobile weather app to track forecasts that determined whether they chose jeans over shorts and packed a parka or umbrella, but its owners used it to track their every step and profit off that information, Los Angeles prosecutors said Friday.

According to a lawsuit filed by Los Angeles city attorney Mike Feuer (spotted by The Verge), TWC's dedicated mobile app may be improperly harvesting user data; similar to the Cambridge Analytica incident that took place some time ago. The app is said to have 45 million monthly users; it's not yet clear how many reside in California.

In a complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, city attorney Michael Feuer alleges that the Weather Company, owned by IBM, misleads app users into believing their location data will only be used to provide them with personalized weather-related information. "[The Weather Channel] has then profited from that data, using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather". It says the app does not tell people about these other uses, instead misleadingly claiming that the data will only be used for "personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts".

"If the price of getting the weather forecast is the sacrifice of your most personal info about where you spend your time, you need to be clearly told in advance", Feuer said.

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The lawsuit pulls IBM into the broader conversation about how tech companies use consumer data that has roiled the industry in the past two years and prompted intense questions from politicians, users and regulators. Indeed, it has been reported that TWC considers itself "a location data company powered by weather'".

'In fact, unbeknownst to its users, TWC's core business is amassing and profiting from user location data, ' it continues. The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a lot to say about companies that take people's personal data for one goal but use it for another, and fines stretch as high as 4% of global revenue.

The lawsuit seeks the statutory penalty under California's Unfair Competition Law, up to $2,500 per violation, or twice that when the victim is disabled or a senior citizen.

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.

"The issue of our privacy in the digital age is one of the most fundamental issues we confront today", he said.

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