On January 3, the city of Los Angeles accused TWC Product and Technology, LLC (“TWC”) (an International Business Machines Corporation subsidiary) of violating millions of American consumers’ privacy. In the civil lawsuit, Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer alleged TWC misled users of its Weather Channel app to turn on precise location tracking by suggesting, according to the complaint, that the data would only be used to provide local weather reports. Los Angeles contends that TWC failed to alert consumers that geolocation data would be shared with third parties for other purposes, including targeted advertising and consumer behavior analysis.

The city acknowledged that the app’s privacy policy “vaguely” discloses that geolocation data may be transmitted to third parties for various commercial purposes. Nevertheless, the city asserted that consumers had no reason to search for that disclosure because the app requests permission to track precise location data without disclosing that the data will be used for purposes unrelated to weather forecasts. Furthermore, the city argued, the disclosure is buried in the privacy policy and would be difficult to identify even if it were sought after.

It is apparently the city’s belief that TWC’s failure to adequately disclose how geolocation data would be used, coupled with allegedly misleading claims about the use of that data, constitutes a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law according to the city. Damages sought include civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation of the law, and an injunction prohibiting TWC from continuing the ostensibly fraudulent business practices. As the owner of one of the most downloaded weather apps, TWC could face significant monetary penalties if the city wins the case.

TAKEAWAY: As consumers and government officials continue to prioritize data security and privacy, companies may want to review their data collection practices. This is particularly important for companies that track geolocation data given regulators’ increasing concern over this sensitive information.