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Weather Channel app illegally shared user location data, L.A. city attorney says

The Weather Channel used its app to track the whereabouts of its users and sold it to third-party websites for targeted ads, Los Angeles prosecutors said Friday as they sued to stop the practice.

The company misled users of the popular app to think their location data would only be used for personalized forecasts and alerts but instead covertly mined the information for corporate profit, City Attorney Michael Feuer said.

Feuer alleged the Weather Channel intentionally obscured its motives in a lengthy privacy policy that got four-fifths of users to agree to share geolocation data.

A spokesman for IBM Corp., which owns the app, denied the allegations.  

"The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data," a company representative said in response to the lawsuit "The disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously."

But Feuer said operators of the app, TWC Product and Technology LLC, sold data to at least a dozen websites for targeted ads and to hedge funds that used the information to analyze consumer behavior.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the company from the practice it deems "unfair and fraudulent" and seeks penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation.

The lawsuit comes as companies, most notably Facebook and Google, are increasingly under fire for how they use people's personal data. Both companies faced congressional hearings last year on privacy issues, which are likely to remain on lawmakers and regulators' minds both nationally and in California.

In June, California lawmakers approved what experts are calling the country's most far-reaching law to give people more control over their personal data online. That law doesn't take effect until next year.

IBM bought the app along with the digital assets of The Weather Company in 2015 for $2 billion but did not acquire The Weather Channel seen on TV, which is owned by another company.

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