LA sues IBM's Weather Company over 'deceptive' use of data

Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users

Los Angeles sues the Weather Channel app for misleading users

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.

"We brought this lawsuit because we allege that the app covertly mines the private data of its users, and then it sends that information to third parties, like advertisers, and others, " Feuer said during a news conference at City Hall East to discuss the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday.

"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 15-page complaint accuses TWC of violating California's Unfair Competition Law through "fraudulent and deceptive business acts and practices", primarily by failing to disclose the uses to which it put its customers' personal information.

A spokesman for IBM Corp., which owns the app, denied the allegations. Artificial intelligence systems like Watson demand huge data sets to train their algorithms on. Indeed, it has been reported that TWC considers itself "a location data company powered by weather'".

In a November speech at an event with top European Union officials, Rometty said "irresponsible handling" of user data by "dominant consumer-facing platform companies" has created a "trust crisis". 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 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.

Feuer told reporters Friday that the case represents a defense of Americans' privacy in a digital age where their location data is frequently stored and shared without prior knowledge.

You might've been deceived into sharing your location data with company partners, according to a lawsuit from Los Angeles' city attorney. TWC's app was targeted, he said, because it touches all demographics and seems benign and innocuous, because the company claims to have the largest trove of geolocation data and because the company did little to change its practices in the wake of the New York Times expose.

The suit is looking for civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation of the law, per the Times, which could collectively total millions of dollars in fines for the Weather Company given the number of California residents who potentially have the app.

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