In a sign of legal and regulatory pressure over data-collection practices and privacy to come, Los Angeles’ city attorney filed a lawsuit against The Weather Company, the Weather Channel app’s operator, over the former’s collection of user data, which it has leveraged for advertising and to meet other commercial objectives. IBM owns The Weather Company.
The move is representative of changing winds on attitudes toward privacy in the location data ecosystem. Following a series of New York Times Facebook and location data exposés and explainers, and with America’s own GDPR, the California Consumer Privacy Act, slated to go into effect on January 1, 2019, companies are waking up to a new reality in which selling and sharing user data to the tune of billions of dollars in revenue with little oversight will soon be over.
The act of alleged deception the lawsuit foregrounds lies in the way the Weather Channel app asks for consumer consent to collect location data. While the pitch for location tracking states that the app needs that information in order to serve users relevant weather information, it does not inform those users that their data will be shared with marketers, earning the app’s proprietor big-time revenue in return for highly targeted advertisements. The company also leveraged that data to provide insight for hedge funds.
Of particular interest in this case is that the LA attorney cited the New York Times explainer on how companies collect and generate revenue on the basis of location data when it filed the suit. This suggests what we’ve already been predicting: that increased attention to this issue on the part of the public and media organizations will have a salient impact on the regulatory landscape, reshaping in turn how data-driven businesses make money in 2019 and beyond.
Joe Zappa is Street Fight’s managing editor.