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Widely used app selling your location info to third parties

*** Update – 8-23-17 – After publishing this article, we received the following statement from AccuWeather and Reveal Media:

“Despite stories to the contrary from sources not connected to the actual information, if a user opts out of location tracking on AccuWeather, no GPS coordinates are collected or passed without further opt-in permission from the user.

Other data, such as Wi-Fi network information that is not user information, was for a short period available on the Reveal SDK, but was unused by AccuWeather. In fact, AccuWeather was unaware the data was available to it. Accordingly, at no point was the data used by AccuWeather for any purpose.

AccuWeather and Reveal Media are committed to following the standards and best practices of the industry. We also recognize this is a quickly evolving field and what is best practice one day may change the next. Accordingly, we work to update our practices regularly.

To avoid any further misinterpretation, Reveal is updating its SDK and pushing out new versions of the SDK in the next 24 hours, with the iOS update going live tonight. The end result should be that zero data is transmitted back to Reveal Mobile when someone opts out of location sharing. In the meanwhile, AccuWeather had already disabled the SDK, pending that update.

Reveal has stated that the SDK could be misconstrued, and they assure that no reverse engineering of locations was ever conducted by any information they gathered, nor was that the intent.

AccuWeather will work with Reveal to restore the SDK when it has been amended and will continue to update its ULAs to be transparent and current with evolving standards. AccuWeather and Reveal continue to enhance methods for handling data and strive to provide superior, seamless, and secure user experiences.

We are grateful to have a supportive community that highlights areas where we can optimize and be more transparent.  ***

Have you noticed items that you search for online seem to follow you around the internet? For example, if you’re looking into buying a new car and are researching specific models online, later advertisements for that car will pop up on other sites. It can definitely give you a creepy feeling like you’re being watched.

Actually, you are. Sites like Google track your online activity so they can provide users with targeted ads. (Note: Click here to find out how to take control of Google’s interest-based ads.) Now, we’ve learned that a popular app is selling your location data to a data mining site, without your permission.

Popular weather app is selling your location data

We’re talking about the popular weather app, AccuWeather. It’s an iOS app found in Apple’s App Store and it has a near perfect rating from users.

Researcher Will Strafach recently caught the AccuWeather app sending geolocation data to the third-party data mining company, Reveal Mobile. It does this even when the user has location sharing turned off.

According to Reveal Mobile’s site, “We help app publishers and media companies extract the maximum value from their location data. By using patented beacon detection and GPS, Reveal Mobile creates the most accurate and precise mobile audience segments available on the market today. These form the foundation for sophisticated location-based targeting advertising and the ability to generate the highest CPMs for location data.”

The problem is, the AccuWeather app does not tell users that their sensitive data is being sent to Reveal Media. It doesn’t even ask for permission. The app requests location access from users to provide localized severe weather alerts, updates and faster launch time.

When location sharing is turned off, the app sends the Wi-Fi router name along with its unique MAC address to Reveal Mobile’s servers. That information can be correlated with public data to show an approximate location of the user’s gadget. When location sharing is enabled, the app sends specific coordinates of the user to the data company.

Reveal Mobile isn’t an advertising company. However, it provides users’ location data to advertisers.

What you can do

The fact is, the only way to stop AccuWeather from sending your location data is to delete the app from your gadget. Unfortunately, there could be other apps sending this data that we don’t know about yet.

Most likely targeted ads are here to stay. If location information is only used to provide targeted ads and nothing malicious, it’s not the end of the world. Some people actually prefer targeted ads since they see products that they are interested in instead of some random item that they would never think of buying.

What do you think? Do targeted ads creep you out? Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts.

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