If you really want to know what’s going on with the weather, it might be less complicated just to look out the window. The city of Los Angeles has filed a complaint against TWC Product and Technology LLC, alleging that the company’s Weather Channel app does not sufficiently disclose to users that it sells their geolocation data to advertisers.
Exactly how much consumer legwork is too much consumer legwork is an area that’s been largely untouched by the law. But with less than a year to go until the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) comes into force, that gray area could find itself getting pushed closer to black and white.
A complaint filed recently with the California Superior Court frames the suit within the context of the state’s Unfair Competition Law, alleging that TWC engaged in unfair and fraudulent business practices by deceiving users into allowing its app to collect geolocation data.
The sin described here is one of omission. In other words, if users had been notified that the data could wind up in the hands of advertisers as part of the initial permission request, there’s a chance they may not have consented in the first place.
A spokeswoman for The Weather Company, which owns TWC Product and Technology LLC and has been a subsidiary of IBM since a 2016 deal, provided this statement: ”The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously.”
(The Weather Company no longer owns The Weather Channel television network, but both continue to be based in Atlanta.)
One of the most prominent regulations on the subject happens to be the forthcoming CCPA, scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. Under that law, there would have to be a link or button located conspicuously in the app that allows users to opt out of having their data sold.
Tanya Forsheit, chairwoman of the privacy and data security group at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, thinks there’s a chance that Los Angeles City Attorney Michael Feuer is using the Weather Channel app complaint as a test case or dry run before the CCPA’s arrival.
“They want to see if they can do this even just under the unfair practices act, even without all of these other laws,” Forsheit said.
For Los Angeles, a successful case might hinge on whether a judge decides that omitting any mention of advertisers from the initial data request is misleading in a way that harms consumers.
Even if The Weather Channel app prevails, don’t expect the issue to become a moot point for businesses and the lawyers who represent them. Public awareness regarding their personal data and its handling continues to spike, and with that comes new sensitivities to maneuver.
Forsheit and her firm often talk generally about such areas with their clients. In those instances it may not be about the law so much as, how creepy is too creepy?
“Creepy is not illegal by the way. It’s not a legal term. But it is a very important question today when we look at how businesses use information and whether it’s something that’s going to turn consumers against them,” Forsheit said.
Daily Report Managing Editor Jonathan Ringel added reporting to this article, which ran initially in Legaltech News, a Daily Report affiliate.