Los Angeles settles Weather Channel lawsuit, lets it keep selling location data to advertisers

Los Angeles has settled its lawsuit against the operator of The Weather Channel app. The city filed litigation against the company in 2019, alleging that the app misled millions of people into granting access to their personal location data and sold that data to third parties.

While IBM is celebrating this moment by calling those original claims “baseless” in a statement, it sounds like they were largely true — since the only thing the settlement requires is for The Weather Channel to proactively warn users that yes, your location data is for sale.

As part of the settlement, the app’s operator, TWC Product and Technology LLC, and the app’s owner, IBM Corporation, have agreed to revise the location-tracking disclosure screens to “ensure transparency and informed consent” for users.

Here’s what those new disclosures might look like (bolding ours):

Location and Your Weather

Did you know that if you allow access to your device’s location and barometric pressure sensor data, it enables us automatically to provide you with more accurate local forecasts? As our Privacy Policy describes, if you grant permission, we use your device’s location to deliver forecasts and weather alerts. We also may use and share this information with trusted partners for ads, and to provide and improve our Services. Regardless of whether or not you allow location access, you can always receive accurate local forecasts by manually entering a location. You can change permissions at any time. Learn More.

I Understand

How We Use and Share Location Information

We collect your device’s location information and pressure sensor data through our applications so that we can offer you certain location-based features like forecasts, weather alerts, and ads, and to provide and improve our Services. The way we collect that information is different depending on whether you are accessing the Services through a website or mobile application.

You can still use our application without giving us permission to access your device’s location services by manually entering a location in the search field. However, if you disable your device’s location services, you will not have access to some of our features like real-time weather alerts for an exact location. If you grant permission, we may use and share your device’s location to deliver you ads relevant to your location, and to provide and improve the Services.

If you’ve also enabled personalized advertising, we may use and share your device’s location data with trusted partners to deliver ads that are relevant to you based on places you may have visited (for example, coffee shops). For more information on these trusted partners and the use and sharing of location data, you can review the section on sharing data in our Privacy Policy.

To learn more about how we use and share your device’s data and our commitment to protecting your privacy, visit our Privacy Policy.

TWC and IBM also agreed to notify Los Angeles of any future changes to these disclosure screens for the next two years, and give the city another opportunity to potentially challenge them in court.

“The Weather Company has always been transparent about its use of location data,” an IBM spokesperson said “We fundamentally disagreed with this lawsuit from the start, and during the case, we showed that the claims were baseless.”

The Weather Channel app is one of the more popular services in the United States. It’s the number one app in the “Weather” category on iOS, and the company claims that in 2019, the app had over 50 million active users worldwide. IBM acquired the digital portion of The Weather Channel in 2015.

The city attorney for Los Angeles says that separate from the settlement, IBM is donating tech to the city and Los Angeles County to help with contract tracing and data storage during the coronavirus pandemic.