David McAfee reports:
The Weather Channel mobile phone app and its parent company, IBM Corp., have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Los Angeles city officials alleging they mined sensitive data on the location of app users without their consent.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed suit against IBM and app operator TWC Product and Technology LLC in 2019, saying they used geolocation tracking technology to collect data while misleading consumers about its use.
Read more on Bloomberg Law.
L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer issued the following statement:
Los Angeles—Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced today that he has settled litigation he brought last year against TWC Product and Technology LLC (TWC), the operator of The Weather Channel mobile phone app, and its parent company International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). The lawsuit alleged that TWC and IBM used the location tracking technology present in the app to monitor where users live, work, and visit, twenty-four hours a day, and shared that information with third parties, without adequately disclosing those practices in the screens presented to users when they decide whether to allow location tracking.
Soon after the City Attorney filed the lawsuit, TWC and IBM revised those disclosure screens. Under the settlement, TWC and IBM have agreed to further revisions to those disclosures, which will help ensure transparency and informed consent. TWC and IBM have also agreed to provide the City Attorney notice of, and the opportunity to challenge in court, any future changes to its disclosure screens over the next two years.
“Personal privacy in the digital age is one of the most pressing issues of the 21st Century,” said Feuer. “Our successful work to ensure meaningful consumer notice and consent and to hold The Weather Channel App accountable puts other Apps on notice: We’re monitoring their practices and will continue to be vigilant in fighting for consumers.”
IBM and TWC have also worked with our Office to address both the County’s and the City’s significant needs in light of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on local government budgets. While not a condition of the settlement, IBM will donate a substantial amount of electronics equipment that will assist with the County’s critical contact tracing efforts and the City’s continued data storage needs. The stipulated settlement agreement is here.
Responding to the news on Twitter, Justin Brookman, who had formerly worked at the FTC, stated:
This is a disappointing result for a once promising case, though perhaps it just reflects the limitations of existing law. The injunctive relief is just a screen saying “hey we may share your geolocation data with whomever we like.”
There’s a case to be made that sharing geolocation data without clear permission is an unfair practice under UDAP law and FTC precedent. But no regulator seems willing to press that argument and upset the ad tech apple cart.