Storm Brewing? Popular Weather App Raises Privacy Concerns
- The Knowledge Group
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A free, popular Android weather app has been collecting a troubling amount of personal information.
The Wall Street Journal says Weather Forecast: World Weather Accurate Radar is a major hit on Google’s Play Store, and it’s been tracking more than the weather requesters’ basic locale.
The app comes from China-based TCL Communication Technology Holdings, maker of Blackberry smartphones. Security experts at London-based Upstream Systems found it quietly collecting users’ movements along with their phones’ identification numbers. The app was set to subscribe 100,000+ TCL Alcatel smartphone users to paid virtual-reality services when Upstream blew the whistle, potentially sparing customers from $1.5 million in charges.
Other popular Android apps, including TripAdvisor and MyFitnessPal, have sent personally identifying data to Facebook.
In December, The New York Times reported that firms collect up-to-the-minute information—including the path of a phone to a given place and how long it stays there—and then they sell it. Phones are tracked to crime scenes, political events, hospitals, clinics, and schools.
Google and Facebook are the biggest players in location-targeted advertising. Smaller companies vie for the remainder of the mobile-location market. IBM became a player when one of its subsidiaries bought the Weather Channel app.
Granted, smartphone owners have to enable location services. But it’s not easy to know just what is being enabled. And an app may want your location to time your jog, without saying your details may be shared and sold.
Law Lags Behind Industry
The FTC does ban deceptive business practices. Still, no federal law restricts the collection or use of location data or selling information without users’ knowledge.
Can the industry police itself? Apple once planned to introduce a blue screen bar when apps obtain location data, then backtracked.
The Upstream Systems’ investigation is one more reason to call for federal regulation.
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