It’s like being followed by the weatherman. A new class action suit against HTC makes some unsettling allegations about how the phone maker has been using a built-in weather app.
In a suit filed in Seattle federal court, two plaintiffs claim that their phone’s AccuWeather app is transmitting precise data about their location at regular intervals and whenever they tap to check the weather. They say the app, which is built into the phone, can’t be disabled and that phone maker HTC is sharing the location data with advertisers that want to target users with customized ads. The plaintiffs also say HTC is failing to encrypt the data that transmits their location.
According to the complaint, the AccuWeather app, which is also available for the iPad, collects location information that is more precise than necessary to provide weather information. Rather than simply collecting “coarse information” to learn that a person is in a certain part of the city, the app obtains the precise corner at which he or she is standing at a given time. The complaint says this information is useful to AccuWeather because the company is in the business of selling user profiles gleaned from smartphone data.
To back up the claims, the second page of the lawsuit (embedded below) includes a picture of HTC EVO 3G and 4G phones and a screenshot that purports to show the phones transmitting very precise GPS data. The phones in question are Sprint’s flagship Android product and have received positive reviews from users and technology reporters.
The lawsuit comes amid an ongoing debate over the role of GPS technology in smartphones. The technology is popular because it allows people to use their phones’ map and navigation features as well as apps that can let them find nearby deals or restaurants. On the other hand, users may be unaware that the phones can constantly transmit their location to advertisers. Often, apps will ask for a users’ permission to enable tracking, something that does not appear to have taken place in the case of AccuWeather.
The lawsuit names both HTC, a Taiwanese company also based in Seattle, and Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather. MediaPost reported that neither company offered further details about the case.
The plaintiffs say that say they and every other EVO users in the United States are entitled to compensation because HTC and AccuWeather sold them a defective product. They say they would not have paid as much for the phone if they had known about the tracking issue. The plaintiffs are also suing under the laws of California and Minnesota, states that known for being friendly to class action lawsuits.