This past week, the operator of the popular Weather Channel (“TWC”) mobile phone app entered into a Stipulation of Settlement with the Los Angeles City Attorney, Mike Feuer (“City Attorney”), closing the books on one of the first litigations to focus on the collection of locational data through mobile phones. (People v. TWC Product and Technology, LLC, No. 19STCV00605 (Cal. Super., L.A. Cty, Stipulation Aug. 14, 2020)). While the settlement appears to allow TWC to continue to use locational information for app-related services and to serve advertising (as long the app includes some agreed-upon notices and screen prompts to consumers), what is glaringly absent from the settlement is a discussion of sharing locational information with third parties for purposes other than serving advertising or performing services in the app. Because applicable law, industry practice and the policies of Apple and Google themselves have narrowed the ability to share locational information for such purposes, the allegations of the case were, in a sense, subsumed in the tsunami of attention that locational information sharing has attracted. While some are viewing this settlement as a roadmap for locational information collection and sharing, in fact the settlement is quite narrow.
Yesterday, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed an unfair competition lawsuit on behalf of the People of the State of California against the operator of the popular Weather Channel app (“TWC app”) for allegedly failing to conspicuously disclose to users that the TWC app collects and shares users’ mobile geolocation data. (People v. TWC Product and Technology, LLC (Cal. Super., L.A. County)). In essence, the suit alleges that the TWC app mines users’ precise geolocation data after receiving permission to gather location information to provide “personalized local weather data” without also adequately disclosing that the app also packages this data trove for advertising and analytics services unrelated to weather reporting. The City is seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties under state law for this alleged unfair business practice. Feuer held a press conference today further detailing the State’s position in this lawsuit and expressed his hope that this case would spur litigation in other jurisdictions and legislation on the issue.
This post discusses some of the contractual requirements imposed by Apple and Google regarding the collection and sharing of locational information. What consents, if any, do Apple and Google require that app publishers obtain before collecting and using locational information? This is a question that is being asked with increasing frequency. In fact, a regular beat of media coverage on the issue (see, e.g., here or here), has reached crescendo levels with a much-discussed article this past week in the New York Times. Coincidentally (or maybe not?), the NYT article was published the day before Google CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Google’s privacy and data collection practices, among other things.
There has been a lot of attention in the media lately with respect to the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica issue and its fall-out (including today’s coverage of the announcement that Facebook suspended almost 200 apps pending a more complete investigation in whether any user data was misused). As part of that discussion,…