LA sues Weather Channel app, alleging it sold users' data

January 04, 2019 - 5:12 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The operator of The Weather Channel mobile app tracks the whereabouts of users and sells their data to third parties, Los Angeles prosecutors said as they sued to stop the practice.

The company misled users of the popular app to think their location data would only be used for personalized forecasts and alerts but instead covertly mined the information for corporate profit, City Attorney Michael Feuer said Friday.

The Weather Channel app intentionally obscured its motives in a lengthy privacy policy that got four-fifths of users to agree to share geolocation data, Feuer said.

A spokesman for IBM Corp., which owns the app, said it has always been clear about the use of location data collected from users and will vigorously defend its "fully appropriate" disclosures.

Feuer said operators of the app, 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.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the company from the practice it deems "unfair and fraudulent" and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation.

It comes as companies, most notably Facebook and Google, are increasingly under fire for how they use people's personal data. Both companies faced congressional hearings last year on privacy issues, which are likely to remain on lawmakers and regulators' minds both nationally and in California.

In June, California lawmakers approved what experts are calling the country's most far-reaching law to give people more control over their personal data online. That law doesn't take effect until next year.

IBM bought the app along with the digital assets of The Weather Company in 2015 for $2 billion but did not acquire The Weather Channel seen on TV, which is owned by another company.

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AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay contributed to this report.

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This story has been clarified to show that the lawsuit is against the operator of The Weather Channel mobile app and not The Weather Channel.

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