The main driving force in this age of targeted advertising is data - tons of it. And it's not just the smaller companies who are looking to mine your patterns and habits to sell them to marketing and research firms. Everyone wants to be in the game.
At this point, we all recognize the possibility that our phones are tracking us. Whether it is the apps we use or our locations, there are certain features that record our day to day habits. Sometimes, in exchange for a free service, we unwittingly give up something else in return
For example, does this weather app merely require your location so it can serve you localized reports? Well, as this lawsuit will try to prove, it may be using your information for profit without your consent.
Is The Weather Channel app misusing your data?
A new lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney's office against the Weather Channel app claims that the company that operates the app is tracking user location data and is selling it for profit.
In a report from the Associated Press, Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer said that users of the app were misled into giving up their location data in exchange for personalized weather updates and alerts. Instead, they unknowingly sacrificed their personal privacy.
The 15-page suit is looking to stop the operators of the app, TWC Product and Technology LLC, which is owned by IBM, to stop its data sharing practices and is seeking penalties of up to $2,500 per violation.
The app allegedly shared its users' geolocation data to at least a dozen third-party websites and companies track user data and behavioral patterns over the past 19 months.
The Weather Channel app is named in the suit as the "world's most downloaded weather app" and has estimated 45 million users a month.
In response to the suit, a spokesperson for IBM said in a press statement that there were no attempts of deception in The Weather Channel app's terms of agreement policy and "the disclosures are fully appropriate." The company is planning to fight the lawsuit.
Fun fact: IBM bought The Weather Company's digital assets (including the app) in 2015 for $2 billion but did not acquire The Weather Channel cable TV network. Consequently, The Weather Channel's TV operations are separate from The Weather Channel app and website.
The Weather Channel app is not the only culprit
According to Feuer, he learned about this misuse of data through the findings of The New York Times.
In that in-depth study, aside from The Weather Channel app, other popular iPhone and Android apps like WeatherBug, Accuweather and GasBuddy are also gathering precise user location data and selling it to third parties.
Feuer hopes that this lawsuit against The Weather Channel app will help stop other companies from gathering data from their users deceptively and sell it for profit.
The Weather Channel app alternatives
Are you concerned about the data sharing practices of The Weather App? Then go ahead and delete it from your phone. In the meantime, there are other alternatives you can try.
Dark Sky provides detailed information and predicts when it will rain or snow, down to the minute, at your exact location to help you plan for the day or week. The app uses your phone’s GPS to know exactly where you are standing and works remarkably well.
While on iOS the app is a $3.99 purchase, Dark Sky is a free download (with an option to upgrade) on Android. The free version provides current conditions, the next 24-hour forecast, a detailed next week forecast and our weather maps.
The MeteoEarth app was adapted from a professional weather broadcast tool that is used by TV meteorologists around the world. The app truly brings weather to life using high-end gaming technology and extraordinary graphics. It's free for iOS.
You can also choose the MeteoEarth Premium option for extended five-day forecasts and the option of checking wind conditions at any altitude right up to the jet stream. One subscription costs $9.99 per year and covers Premium services on MeteoEarth, AlertsPro and WeatherPro. Ads are also removed from the premium subscription.
RainAware Weather Timer
The RainAware app lets you time rain and storms to your exact location. The app updates quickly to stay ahead of changing weather.
The app costs $3.99 for Android and $4.99 for iOS.
For those of you who are serious about your weather, there is RadarScope. It's a specialized display utility for weather enthusiasts and meteorologists.
The basic RadarScope app costs $9.99 for both iOS and Android.
Study shows that some apps share your data with Facebook whether you like it or not
Facebook is fairly open about how its business model works. It sells our information to companies so they can more directly advertise to us. But, if you think you are safe from this just because you deleted your Facebook account, or never used it, then you would be wrong. There are apps that are feeding your data to Facebook, whether you use Facebook or not.