L.A. Sues IBM’s Weather Company over ‘Deceptive’ Weather Channel App

January 4, 2019, 12:14 PM UTC

The Weather Channel’s app secretly sucks up users’ personal data and uses it for things like targeted marketing and hedge fund analysis, the Los Angeles city attorney has claimed in a lawsuit against The Weather Company, the IBM-owned firm that runs the app.

The case was first reported Thursday in the New York Times, but City Attorney Mike Feuer will hold a press conference Friday morning. In a tweet, he said he was taking “action against one of America’s largest corporations for what we allege is egregious behavior.”

The app gathers people’s geolocation data, ostensibly to give users more targeted forecasts. The suit alleges that The Weather Company is actually motivated by sending this data to “IBM affiliates and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or the Weather Channel App’s services.” It says the app does not tell people about these other uses, instead misleadingly claiming that the data will only be used for “personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts.”

The suit also alleges that the Weather Channel app tracks users “in minute detail” even when they are not using it, allowing the company to work out their consumer preferences and daily habits for ad-targeting purposes.

“If the price of getting the weather forecast is the sacrifice of your most personal info about where you spend your time, you need to be clearly told in advance,” Feuer said.

“The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously,” said an IBM spokesperson.

Feuer’s suit is based on the idea that, by deceiving users, the IBM subsidiary is engaging in fraudulent behavior that breaks California’s Unfair Competition Law.

If the allegations are correct, that could potentially also open up IBM to big fines in Europe, where the app also operates. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has a lot to say about companies that take people’s personal data for one purpose but use it for another, and fines stretch as high as 4% of global revenue.

This article was updated to include IBM’s statement.

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