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Los Angeles sues Weather Channel app over privacy issues

The suit claims consumers’ location data is being sold to advertisers without consent

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Millions of consumers use the Weather Channel’s app to keep up with their local weather conditions, but a suit filed by the City of Los Angeles claims the app is keeping up with you.

In a suit filed late last week, the City of Los Angeles claims the company that owns the Weather Channel is manipulating users into activating location tracking by suggesting the information would only be used to provide specific weather forecasts. The suit charges that information is also used to help advertisers better target consumers.

As it turns out, knowing where individuals are at any given moment is very valuable. For example, advertisers use that information to target a consumer when he or she is near their place of business.

The City of Los Angeles lawsuit claims the Weather Channel has sold data collected from its app to companies that mine this sort of data. Citing an article in the New York Times the city said at least 75 companies collected precise location data using information obtained through the app.

The suit charges that consumers weren’t adequately informed of this arrangement. It said the notices supplied by the app failed to provide complete details about how their data would be shared and used. The suit claims  incomplete messages like that are “fraudulent and deceptive” and violate California’s Unfair Competition Law.

Tech industry crisis

The suit strikes at the heart of a crisis the technology industry is now facing. Since Facebook revealed in March that user data had been unlawfully used by a political marketing firm, big tech firms have been in a defensive posture and under increasing regulatory pressure.

As the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) gets underway this week in Las Vegas, Apple addressed the issue head-on in a billboard, declaring “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.”

“If the price of getting a weather report is going to be the sacrifice of your most personal information about where you spend your time day and night, you sure as heck ought to be told clearly in advance,” Michael Feuer, the Los Angeles city attorney, told the Times.

A spokesman for IBM, who owns the Weather Channel app, said the company has always been transparent in its use of personal data. It said the company will vigorously defend the lawsuit.

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