Judge Advances Privacy Class Action Against Weather Channel

The Weather Channel will face claims it tracked users’ locations and sold the data for profit.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday the Weather Channel — which boasts one of the most popular mobile weather apps in the United States — must face claims it continuously tracked, stored and shared users’ precise locations even when they did not have the app open.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar refused to dismiss the class action filed in June 2020 by Jon Hart, a California resident who downloaded the app and says he uses it often. He accuses the Weather Channel of profiting from users’ geolocation data under the guise of providing a valuable service in the form of personalized weather data, alerts, and forecasts.

“Importantly, TWC did not and does not merely collect users’ city or ZIP code. Instead, TWC tracks, collects, and maintains users’ precise location and movements on a minute-by-minute and sometimes second-by-second basis, regardless of whether the user currently has the Weather Channel app open,” Hart says in his complaint. “Nowhere in the consent process did TWC disclose that it would be doing anything other than identifying where a user is generally located for the purpose of providing more accurate weather information.”

Hart also accuses the Weather Channel of selling the collected data to hedge funds and private equity firms that use it to monitor where consumers shop, dine and recreate.

The Weather Channel and its parent company IBM even developed a “location-driven marketing platform” called JOURNEYfx, through which they can collect and analyze the data of 87 million monthly app users.

While Hart consented to disclosing his location when he downloaded the app, Tigar found California courts have consistently accepted the nuances in people’ privacy expectations.

“Given the wide discrepancy between Hart’s alleged expectations for TWC’s use of his data and its actual alleged use, Hart has plausibly alleged a reasonable expectation of privacy against TWC’s practices,” Tigar wrote, adding that the mere existence of a privacy policy does not nullify Hart’s lawsuit “because users might lack actual or constructive notice of the policy.”

Tigar’s ruling comes as the Weather Channel and IBM settled a lawsuit with the city of Los Angeles. The companies agreed to notify users that the app constantly tracks their movements, rather than burying the disclosure in unread privacy policies.

But Hart’s action demands that the Weather Channel stop collecting geolocation data and pay damages to all Californians who downloaded the app and were tracked prior to Jan. 25, 2019.

Tigar said while Hart failed to show that he lost money or property from being tracked, he has sufficiently shown the Weather Channel unjustly benefited from the use of his data.

A spokesperson for the Weather Channel noted the company changed its name to the Weather Company in 2012 and said the company believes the lawsuit will ultimately be dismissed.

“We continue to believe the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint are meritless,” The Weather Company said through the spokesperson. “We are pleased that the court dismissed some of plaintiff’s claims at this early stage, and we are confident that further proceedings in the case will show that the remaining claims should be dismissed as well.”

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