Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Friday that his office was suing TWC Product and Technology, the company which operates the Weather Channel’s smartphone app, which provides users with real-time weather information and forecasts. The City Attorney’s office alleged that TWC Product and Technology has been “covertly mining the private data of users and selling the information to third parties, including advertisers.”
Deputy City Attorney Adam Teitelbaum, who is handling the lawsuit, is seeking an injunction to prohibit the app operator from “continuing to engage in allegedly unfair and fraudulent business activities, including deceptively collecting and selling personal data.” The City Attorney’s office is also seeking civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation.
“If the cost of a weather forecast will be the sacrifice of deeply private information–like precisely where we are, day and night–it must be clear, in advance,” said Feuer in a press release. “But we allege TWC elevates corporate profits over users’ privacy, misleading them into allowing their movements to be tracked, 24/7. We’re acting to stop this alleged deceit.”
In the press release announcing the lawsuit, Feuer stressed his concerns regarding the users’ rights to data privacy.
“This case goes to the core of one of today’s most fundamental issues,” Feuer added. “How do we maintain our privacy in the digital age? We believe Americans must have the facts before giving away our most personal information.”
Feuer said that TWC Product and Technology used the “geolocation tracking technology present in the app to monitor where users live, work, and visit, twenty-four hours a day, as well as how much time users spend at each location.” The complaint alleges that “[a]ccording to TWC, it collects more than one billion pieces of location data per week, thus tracking users’ personal data with ‘unmatched accuracy and precision.’ TWC contends that it possesses the ‘world’s largest continuous set of 1st party place data [i.e., geolocation data].’”
At the crux of Los Angeles’ complaint is that TWC Product and Technology did not accurately inform users how their data would be used. The complaint alleges that users were told that their location would be used to provide them with “personalized local weather data, alerts, and forecasts.” However, the app creators allegedly sent user data to “affiliates of its parent company, IBM [the Weather Channel is an IBM subsidiary], and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes entirely unrelated to the weather,” according to the City Attorney’s office.
User information has allegedly been “used for targeted advertisements by at least a dozen third-party websites over the past 19 months based on locations users frequent, and has been [used] by hedge funds interested in analyzing consumer behavior.”