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article imageStrava's fitness heatmap exposes global military bases

By James Walker     Jan 29, 2018 in Technology
The Strava fitness tracking app has found itself embroiled in a military secrets controversy after updating its global heatmap of aggregate user data. The map shows the outlines of numerous military bases, which glow with the movements of people within.
Strava is a fitness service which collects data from popular tracking devices such as Fitbits and smartphones. In 2017, it published a new online heatmap that's supposed to show the most popular routes frequented by fitness enthusiasts around the world. Last week, 20-year-old Australian international security student Nathan Ruser realised the map's so precise you can zoom in to look at individual routes.
This is of particular concern around military bases. Many soldiers and military staff wear fitness trackers to log their steps as they patrol facilities. Because these routes tend to follow the outlines of the base, they show as intense lines of activity on the heatmap. Strava appears to be exposing the layouts of military bases across the world.
Over the past weekend, users have been scouring the map to find bright spots in active military areas. In Syria, coalition U.S.-led air bases are particularly evident. The probable locations of security posts and patrol routes are readily identifiable on the map. Although military bases from any nation could be impacted, the U.S. has the greatest global presence and so is considered to be the most significantly affected.
While the military bases themselves are usually already mapped on satellite images, there are now concerns Strava could draw attention to previously unknown areas of interest. The map has already revealed the most commonly patrolled roads around bases, which could be valuable information. It also shows activity alongside a Syrian dam where analysts have long suspected the U.S. is building a new, unconfirmed base.
Strava users can opt out of sharing their location data. However, it's clear that lots of people either aren't aware it's enabled or haven't realised the potential sensitivity of their movements. In a statement to the Guardian, Strava acknowledged the widespread analysis of its heatmap tool and said it would be working "with military and government officials" to address the findings.
"Our global heatmap represents an aggregated and anonymised view of over a billion activities uploaded to our platform," Strava said. "It excludes activities that have been marked as private and user-defined privacy zones. We take the safety of our community seriously and are committed to working with military and government officials to address sensitive areas that might appear."
It's not just foreign military bases that have been exposed. Users have also discovered the activity patterns of people working at the CIA headquarters and GCHQ in the UK. Interestingly, there is no activity shown around the Pentagon, suggesting the building has an effective no-devices policy.
More about strava, Fitness, fitness tracker, military secrets, Privacy
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