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LA City Attorney Mike Feuer announced a settlement with TWC Product and Technology LLC, owner and operator of the Weather Channel app, and its parent company IBM in a press conference on August 19. 

Feuer’s 2019 lawsuit alleged that TWC used “misleading and deceptive statements” in the Weather Channel app, through disclosure screens, that didn’t clearly inform users about the usage of their shared location data. 

The suit alleged the misleading statements led users to believe that their location data would be exclusively used for “personalized local weather data, alerts and forecasts”; however, users’ locations were being tracked for 24 hours a day on their whereabouts, like where users live, work and visit. 

The suit further claimed that TWC, gathering unaware users’ data and information through the Weather Channel app, sent the information to its parent company, IBM, and third-party sources to be used for monetization purposes, such as advertising and other commercial purposes. IBM acquired the Weather Channel’s digital assets in 2015, like the Weather Channel app and website, excluding the TV network itself.

The settlement between Feuer and TWC and IBM includes an agreed revision to the app to fully disclose, to users of the app, the intended use and purpose of the shared location data gathered from its users. 

“The Weather Channel app and IBM have agreed to make additional revisions to these disclosures,” Feuer said. “They’re now going to disclose all of that missing information, which will help ensure transparency and informed consent by users.” 

“Users will now clearly know that they have the choice to provide access to their locations, that these locations may be given to third parties for ads, and that they can get weather reports without always providing access to their locations.”

TWC and IBM are expected, following the settlement, to give notice to the LA city attorney’s office about any changes to the app’s disclosure screens in the future for the next two years, along with the ability to challenge in court. 

Separate from the settlement, “IBM will be donating a little more than a $1 million’s worth of material to the city,” Feuer said.

“While it’s not a condition of our settlement, IBM will donate a substantial amount of technology to assist with the county’s critical contact tracing efforts and the city’s continuing data storage needs,” he said. 

Melissa Medori, IBM personal relations and spokeswoman, relayed IBM’s statement, saying, “The Weather Company has always been transparent about its use of location data. We fundamentally disagreed with this lawsuit from the start, and during the case we showed that the claims were baseless. However, in recognition of IBM’s long-standing relationship with Los Angeles and our history of providing technology solutions to improve its operations, we are donating technology to help the city and county deal with COVID-19 relief and contact tracing efforts.”

Feuer also highlighted that the city attorney’s office “… (will be) putting other apps on notice, that (they) are going to be vigilant and (they are) going to monitor (other apps’) practices on behalf of consumers.” 

“The core of this resolution is that users have the choice not to sacrifice their personal data (and) location information if they didn’t want to share that and still get the benefit of (the app’s) information. … It provides transparency to users of the Weather Channel app,” Feuer said. 

Feuer hopes this settlement and the resolution with TWC and IBM becomes a model for other companies to follow. Feuer stated, “It shows we don’t have to sacrifice our privacy for things of value.”