Location data is a funny thing. You need it to get an accurate forecast, and they, the app-maker, need it to cash in on a free-to-you service. Few, though, realize this data isn’t solely meant to provide you an accurate forecast. On some apps, it’s a revenue model all its own, with geolocation data being sold to the highest bidder.
This week the City of Los Angeles sued The Weather Channel for allegedly using customer user data inappropriately. The lawsuit claims that TWC “takes advantage of its app’s widespread popularity by using it as an intrusive tool to mine users’ private geolocation data, which [The Weather Channel] then sends to IBM affiliates and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or The Weather Channel App’s services.”
Wait until they hear about Facebook, Google, and other data power brokers masquerading as tech companies.
These apps dot the home screens of nearly every phone in existence. Whether it came from Apple, or a third-party like TWC, chances are you have one too. But unlike Apple’s humble offering, third-party apps are chock-full of added features. Chief among them, a penchant for secretly mining your location data and selling it to advertising brokers.
It’s not the Equifax hack, by any means. We’re not talking about a mountain of data exposing everything from your current income, to an affinity for letting it ride in Atlantic City. But forking over location data to the people known for weaponizing it against you isn’t worth writing off, either.
And TWC isn’t the first weather app to travel this road. WeatherBug, another popular choice for mobile consumers, was caught by the NY Times sending precise location data to dubious third-parties.
In 2017, Accuweather wore the crown for sketchiest weather app for exactly the same thing. Worse, it collected and sold this information even when users had location data turned off.
And just last week, a popular app on the Google Play Store called “Weather Forecast — World Weather Accurate Radar” — because the art of naming apps is now dead, officially — was busted collecting not only location data, but IMEI identification numbers on mobile devices, email addresses, and attempting to covertly roll free weather app users into paid subscribers on at least two virtual reality platforms.
We reached out to Brian Mueller, creator of the snarky weather man in your pocket, Carrot Weather, who informed us that Carrot “will never sell location data (or any other personal information) to third parties.” User privacy, Mueller says, is one of his top priorities.
Dark Sky, another popular third-party weather application, told Motherboard that it doesn’t, and would never, sell location data.
If you’re determined to use a feature-rich third party solution, it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to the dev team to find out how your location data is being used. Of course, even that could prove fruitless with the careful, lawyerly wording of most privacy statements — the kind of language meant to protect the company, not inform the consumer.
Ultimately, it’s going to be up to Google and Apple to set better standards for how companies collect, and disseminate user data. Don’t hold your breath. Both Google and Apple place themselves somewhere between willful ignorance, and general apathy when it comes to how app-makers use your data. And that’s not going to change any time soon.