The operators of the Weather Channel's popular mobile app secretly used the location information of millions of its users and illegally sold it to advertisers and marketing companies, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.
The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges the Weather Company, which operates the app, used deceptive practices to mislead users to believe their location would only be used to provide accurate weather reports.
"For years, (the Weather Company) 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 weather forecasts,'" the lawsuit says. "TWC has then profited from that data, using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App."
The Weather Channel app has around 45 million average monthly users.
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The Weather Company is owned by IBM, which operates the app and other digital assets associated with the Weather Channel, although IBM does not own the actual network. IBM bought the Weather Company in 2015.
IBM denies any impropriety with use of location data collected from users of its mobile app. IBM Corp. issued a statement Friday in response to the lawsuit, claiming app users are misled to think the data is only used for personalized weather information but it is actually sold to third parties.
IBM said there has always been transparency about use of location data and it will be vigorously defended.
The lawsuit comes as companies such as Facebook and Google are under fire for sharing users' information.
According to the lawsuit, the app can track the location of its users with extreme precision, and the data was shared with IBM affiliates "and other third parties for advertising and commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or the Weather Channel App's services." The purposes ranged from hedge funds interested in consumer behavior to McDonald's McCafe coffee offerings, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit argues the Weather Company violated the Unfair Competition Law by engaging in a number of fraudulent business acts and practices.