LA sues Weather Channel app owner over 'fraudulent' data use

Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users

Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users

Los Angeles" city attorney sued The Weather Channel on behalf of the people of California on Thursday, claiming it fraudulently and deceptively uses its Weather Channel App "to amass its users' private, personal geolocation data", not, as advertised - "to provide them with "personalized local weather data'" - but to monetize the information by selling it to third parties. The suit doesn't allege personally identifiable information was sold.

The Weather Channel app allegedly amassed user location data without permission or users' knowledge.

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.

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. Artificial intelligence systems like Watson demand huge data sets to train their algorithms on.

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".

It contends that one of IBM's primary reasons for buying the Weather Company was to profit from this data.

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In a November speech at an event with top European Union officials, Rometty said "irresponsible handling" of user data by "dominant consumer-facing platform companies" has created a "trust crisis".

"The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data", said IBM, "the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously".

The attorney elected to represent the second-most populated city in the country is seeking an injunction against the Weather Channel to stop what he alleges are "unfair business practices and civil penalties" to punish and deter the company from engaging in similar conduct in the future.

Two years ago, AccuWeather was caught sending user location data, even when location sharing was off, a practice it continued even after being publicly exposed. TWC's app was targeted, he said, because it touches all demographics and seems benign and innocuous, because the company claims to have the largest trove of geolocation data and because the company did little to change its practices in the wake of the New York Times expose.

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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