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Your Weather App Is Selling You Out

Illustration for article titled Your Weather App Is Selling You Out

Photo: Sebastian Salguero (Getty Images)

While I think we can all agree that every app on our phone is probably an

Which brings us to The Weather Channel’s announcement. Ultimately, if the company’s app is cut off from our phone’s tags or precise location over the next few months, the effects on its business—or our privacy—will ultimately be minimal. While the app’s probably best known for, well, collecting data on the weather, it’s also spent the past two years aggregating even more data from third-party brokers to figure out the way that weather impacts how we surf the web and shop in stores. Now that tracking the way we surf is a smidge harder, it makes sense that the Watson team needs to shift its focus onto shopping. The end result isn’t that we’re tracked any less, just that we’re tracked in a different way.

As Watson Advertising’s global lead, Sheri Bachstein, told the ad-industry rag AdExchanger about the announcement:

The weather, for example, invokes certain moods in people and can have a direct impact on their buying behavior in a way that goes beyond umbrella buying during a rainstorm or ordering snow boots in the winter.

Watson tracks aggregate behavior in an effort to reveal the less obvious stuff, Bachstein said.

For instance, it found that sales of baking chocolate and cocoa increased by 62% in northwest central states, such as Kansas, Iowa and Missouri, during an unseasonably warm and rainy one-day forecast, while wine sales were up by 25% during a one-day forecast for clear conditions in east north central United States, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

“Factors like humidity, temperature and other weather-related data points can actually be quite revealing,” Bachstein said.

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In other words, The Weather App isn’t just telling marketing types whether it’s raining where I happen to be, but also how I’m gonna respond to that particular bout of bad weather, and whether I’m the type to stay inside and bake, stay inside and binge drink, or stay inside and not do anything at all. It’s not just about tracking the weather, but tracking the way it’s impacting our collective moods as a whole.

Right now, a lot of folks can probably sum up that mood in one word: fear. Some of the most damaging wildfires in recent memory are raging across the West Coast right now, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and killing more than 30 thus far. Meanwhile, states like Mississippi and Alabama are gearing up for the second massive hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in less than a month. In situations like these, where sticking your head outside to check the weather means getting a lungful of ash or worse, digital tools for tracking the weather—apps included—are less of a luxury and more of a necessity. And as far as IBM’s concerned, it’s a necessity that’s extremely lucrative, whether you realize it or not.

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