You Track the Weather. Does Your Weather App Track You Back?

By: Sydney Murphy  | 

woman with weather app
Many weather apps gather your personal data for advertising purposes. Mareen Fischinger/Getty Images

Many people check the weather forecast every day by using an app, not realizing that doing this compromises their privacy.

Weather websites and apps are notorious for gathering your personal information, according to a review published by The New York Times' Wirecutter back in May 2021. The publication found that 17 of the 20 weather apps it reviewed were gathering data to track devices for advertising purposes, and 14 were using location information to track devices. The reason these weather websites and apps track your data is that it is highly lucrative. Location information sold for targeted advertising made an estimated $21 billion in 2019.

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In addition, the popular app "Weather Forecast — World Weather Accurate Radar" was found to be collecting location data, email addresses and International Mobile Equipment Identity numbers (a unique 15-digit code used to identify devices), according to an investigation covered by The Wall Street Journal. This free app, made by TCL Communication Technology Holdings Ltd., based in Shenzhen, China, is still available for download. Google later suspended two other Chinese apps from its Play store, based on allegations that they were exploiting user permissions as part of an ad fraud scheme.

Information like this can be frightening. So how do you stop companies from harvesting your weather data for their benefit?

One way is to use weather apps from privacy-focused search engines, such as Startpage. The search engine allows users to search for weather updates in any location without sharing their IP address and personal data. (Full disclosure: HowStuffWorks' parent company System1 is an investor in Startpage.)

"Finding weather information is a daily routine for many people, just like searching the internet. But weather apps often behave as secret spies. That's why we are excited to now offer you Startpage's enhanced private weather feature with an indefinite forecast: Sunny with no chance of spying!" said Robert E.G. Beens, CEO and founder of Startpage, in a press release. IP addresses and personal data are never saved or shared during a weather search on Startpage.

Startpage weather screenshot
To try out Startpage's private weather search, enter a query like "weather in X city" or "weather in zip code."
Startpage

Startpage has partnered with Tomorrow.io to bring more comprehensive coverage of real-time weather.

"Tomorrow.io's industry leading widgets include a number of options, including air quality, pollutants, pollen, fire risk, multiple locations, general weather summaries and more," said Dan Slagen, Tomorrow.io's chief marketing officer, in the same release. "With weather and climate-related events now in the daily news cycle, it's more important than ever to provide the most hyperlocal and actionable forecasts to people everywhere throughout the world."

Another option is to disable tracking on your current weather app. Go to Settings and look for Apps and then for the weather app you have installed. Turn off any settings regarding location. This will mean you'll have to enter the information manually for the weather. Turning off location tracking will minimize the app's data collection but not stop it entirely depending on which company owns your weather app and what other information they may have about you.

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