The County of Los Angeles, California, has launched a lawsuit against the company behind The Weather Channel mobile app. Inb their Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Civil Penalties, Los Angeles, on behalf of the “People of the State of California”, said that The Weather Channel “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 forecasts.'” Instead of simply using the location data for weather reports, the lawsuit alleges that the Weather Channel profited from that data, “using it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App. In fact, unbeknownst to its users, (their) core business is amassing and profiting from user location data.”
Los Angeles County, on behalf of California, is seeking injunctive relief to “put an end to TWC’s unfair business practices and civil penalties both to punish TWC for its egregious conduct and to deter TWC from engaging in the same or similar conduct in the future.”
In this case, TWC is “TWC Product and Technology, LLC”, the formal name of The Weather Company that runs the Weather Channel’s digital assets. This is actually a unit of IBM. In October of 2015, the Weather Channel’s digital assets, including the weather.com and Weather Underground websites and mobile apps, were sold to IBM, along with The Weather Company offering, which continues to provide weather data and information to the cable network and other private industry.
In March of 2018, the Weather Channel cable network was sold to media mogul Byron Allen’s company, Entertainment Studios for $300million. While the mobile app at the target of the California lawsuit carries the cable network name and branding, the Weather Channel cable network does not own it and is not a party to the lawsuit.
Users do opt into sharing their location data when installing the app. However, the California lawsuit says that the permission prompt “does not disclose that TWC will share geolocation data with third parties, nor that geolocation information will be used for advertising or other commercial purposes unrelated to weather…”
“The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously,” Ed Barbini, a spokesman for IBM said in a statement about the lawsuit.
IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty has used the attention around data privacy to try and differentiate IBM from other tech companies, saying the dominant consumer tech platforms should face more scrutiny from regulators. At the 2019 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, IBM’s Weather Company Unit unveiled a new global computer forecast model it plans to bring on-line later this year. At CES, IBM representatives said they plan to share new technologies around the world of weather in the coming months.