Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Friday that the Weather Channel’s mobile app has changed its public disclosure policy in the wake of a recently filed lawsuit accusing it of using illegal tactics to secretly profit from the precise geolocation data of users by selling it to advertisers and marketing companies.
A Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed earlier this month by Feuer alleges the Weather Company, which operates the app, used deceptive practices to mislead users into believing their location would only be used to provide accurate weather reports.
Feuer said Friday that the company appears to have changed its policy, and the app now informs users though a pop-up window that their personal location data might be used for “geographically relevant advertising.”
“Clearly this change in policy is tantamount to a public admission that, contrary to IBM’s response to our lawsuit, the Weather Channel App was not transparent with its use of location data, and its disclosures were far from `fully appropriate,”’ Feuer said, adding that the lawsuit will proceed.
The Weather Channel app has around 45 million average monthly users and is operated by the Weather Company, which is owned by IBM, although IBM does not own the actual network.
“For years, (the Weather Company) 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 `personalized local weather data, alerts and weather forecasts,”’ the lawsuit alleges. “TWC has then profited from that data, using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App.”
Feuer’s lawsuit says a disclosure about the company sharing location data with partners is buried in the fine print of a 10,000-word privacy section.
An IBM spokesman, Saswato Das, told The New York Times after the lawsuit was announced that the Weather Company “has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously.”
An IBM representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment Friday on the disclosure policy change.
According to the lawsuit, the app can track the location of its users with extreme precision, and the data was shared with IBM affiliates “and other third parties for advertising and commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or the Weather Channel App’s services.” The purposes ranged from hedge funds interested in consumer behavior to McDonald’s McCafe coffee offerings, the lawsuit says.
Feuer said the company stopped sharing information with hedge funds following a story last month by The Times that highlighted the practice.
The lawsuit argues the Weather Company violated the Unfair Competition Law by engaging in a number of fraudulent business acts and practices, and seeks up to $2,500 in damages per violation of every California user of the app, making the potential legal cost in the millions or billions.