Partly cloudy with a chance of lost privacy. That might be the forecast if you’re using an app to check the weather.
The city attorneys of Los Angeles on Thursday sued the developer of the Weather Channel app for allegedly collecting, sharing and profiting from user location data without users’ permission. Roughly 45 million people use the app every month, and it was the most downloaded weather app from 2014 to 2017, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that IBM subsidiary The Weather Company, the outfit behind the app, used the program to “amass its users’ private, personal geolocation data” while making users believe their data was used only to provide accurate local weather forecasts.
IBM says The Weather Company has always been transparent with its use of location data.
“The disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously,” Edward Barbini, vice president of corporate communication at IBM, said in an emailed statement.
The Weather App tracks users’ movements in minute detail and sells this data to third parties without users’ knowledge or permission, the lawsuit alleges.
The app collects location data on where users live and work, as well as the places they visit throughout the day and night, according to the suit. It also gathers info on how much time users spend at each place, the suit says. The data can allegedly be analyzed to understand a specific user’s daily habits, shopping preferences and even unique identity.
“This case goes to the core of one of today’s most fundamental issues, how do we maintain our privacy in the digital age? We chose this defendant because this app touches all demographics,” Mike Feuer, LA city attorney, said at a press conference on Friday. “This app seems to be benign; how many of you would suspect that to get a weather app, we would be tracked 24/7?”
The Weather Channel app isn’t the first program to face scrutiny in regard to user location data. The New York Times in December revealed how free apps like GasBuddy are programmed to track users in homes, hospitals, schools and offices.
“I hope every company can be truly transparent and disclose to users what’s at stake,” said Feuer. “That’ll be the right thing to do.”
Fight the Power: Take a look at who’s transforming the way we think about energy.
Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data mining scandal.