Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Los Angeles Accuses Weather Channel App of Covertly Mining User Data

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Natasha Singer, New York Times:

The Weather Channel app deceptively collected, shared and profited from the location information of millions of American consumers, the city attorney of Los Angeles said in a lawsuit filed on Thursday.

One of the most popular online weather services in the United States, the Weather Channel app has been downloaded more than 100 million times and has 45 million active users monthly.

The government said the Weather Company, the business behind the app, unfairly manipulated users into turning on location tracking by implying that the information would be used only to localize weather reports. Yet the company, which is owned by IBM, also used the data for unrelated commercial purposes, like targeted marketing and analysis for hedge funds, according to the lawsuit.

Contra speculation I saw linked from Techmeme, this is not the default weather app on the iPhone; this lawsuit concerns the separate Weather Channel app. However, the Weather Channel is the data provider for the default iOS weather app. After reading the Times article and the suit, it’s still unclear whether users of the default weather app are affected. The iOS 12 user agreement makes no mention of what data is shared with the Weather Company.

Update: David Carroll on Twitter:

A major city, LA, fills in for FTC’s failure to effectively watchdog the data industry. IBM slammed with suit for covertly mining precise location data thru popular Weather Channel app. Ready for a GDPR for the USA yet folks?

There isn’t a set of federal regulations clarifying the conditions under which user data may be used and requiring that users opt into any use of identifying data with fully transparent rationale. The FTC has limited powers and it is squandering even those. There is little incentive for companies to be consumer-friendly when the market for user data encourages the kind of behaviour the Los Angeles city attorney is accusing in this suit.