AccuWeather causes outrage after it fails to halt sharing of location data with mobile monetisation company

AccuWeather may still be sharing its app location data with third-party advertisers, according to ZDNet. Having been criticised for sharing almost the precise locations of its iPhone app with app monetisation company Reveal Mobile, AccuWeather promised to get rid of the feature by updating its app last week.

Will Strafach, a security expert, who first flagged the problem, also said that the company was sharing GPS coordinates. According to a blog post on hackernoon.com, he wrote:

The “location data coming out of those apps” would your precise GPS coordinates (Access granted under a more reasonable guise of weather alerts), and Wi-Fi router name/BSSID. If you do not grant AccuWeather access to your GPS information, it will still send your Wi-Fi router name and BSSID, providing RevealMobile access to less precise location information regarding your device’s whereabouts. This practice by a different company appears to have previously caught the attention of the FTC.

Following widespread outrage, AccuWeather apologised and tried to fix the issue, but testing by Strafach found that the app was still sharing location data with Reveal Mobile. ZDNet confirmed these findings in independent testing.

Reveal Mobile provides location data in the form of audience data for advertisers to more effectively target their intended audiences. The company has since also put up a statement on protecting user privacy on its homepage.

Interestingly, a competing weather app, Dark Sky, said that sharing location data was a much bigger issue in the industry. The app, which promises to never share consumer geolocation data, said it was being approached at least once a week by marketers in an attempt to get it to share its users’ location data.

You can see screenshots of the kind of emails they receive here.

Part of the issue is that app users are generally unaware of how and when they are sharing data. Research from Timothey Morey has previously found that just 25% of users are aware that their location data is being shared. Given that this data was collected in 2015, awareness may since have risen slightly, but overall users are still largely in the dark.

In fact, Bank of America research revealed that 44% of Millennials were comfortable with sharing their location. The question is whether they are aware of whom else, outside of the app, they are sharing their data with.