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The Weather Channel App Sued for Sharing User Location Data

By George Khoury, Esq. on January 08, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

While there may not seem to be anything more innocent than an app that tells you the weather, according to a recent lawsuit, The Weather Channel app has been doing much more with their users' location data than those same users might have ever guessed.

The lawsuit, filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, alleges unfair business practices due to misleading app users into believing their location is being shared with the app solely for weather related purposes. In reality, The Weather Channel was monitoring its users' geolocations in order to provide targeted advertising, and even provided information to hedge funds seeking to construct models of consumer behavior.

Duping App Users

The complaint alleges that the app's users are basically tricked into agreeing to share their location data for purposes other than solely receiving weather related information. When a user is prompted to enable location tracking, they are only told that it is for weather forecasts and alerts, not for advertising or data-mining.

Naturally, the app's Privacy Policy can be read and inevitably allows such use of a user's location data. The lawsuit alleges that the policy buries the sections permitting this use, intentionally making it difficult for users to find or understand so as to reduce the risk of users not agreeing to share their location data with the app.

IBM Will Vigorously Defend

Though The Weather Channel might seem like an innocent enough app, it seems that the company's location-data mining motives have been clear from the start, or at least when company execs boasted that it was the motivating factor behind IBM's purchase of The Weather Channel.

IBM responded to Ars Technica's request for comment with some canned language suggesting it will stand by its disclosures and practices.

The Data Mine

At this stage, users of mobile apps should be up to speed as to the fact that app makers need to make money, and if you are not paying for the app, then your data is likely being mined for profit, and you have agreed to that in exchange for being able to use the app. It may not be the worst thing in the world, as often the data mining is for the purposes of serving you better advertising, which arguably (or perhaps arguably not) is at least less annoying than irrelevant ads.

However, the problem arises when the pop-up windows that app makers insert to help users quickly get setup and using the app, suggest misleading information to users.

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