All we could expect from a fitness tracking app is the number of calories burned, steps taken, heart rate information and etc. Little we did know that it could reveal the location and staff of the military bases around the world.
Last November, Strava, an online fitness tracker published a “heat map”, which is a data visualization map showing the activity (like paths taken by a user when he runs or cycles) of all its users around the world. However, it appears to reveal sensitive data about the outlines of the foreign military bases in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and etc when military personnel moves around the base.
Strava is a fitness tracking application which uses the device GPS to track the activity of users and also allowing the users to upload their activity to the company’s servers. This app can be installed on various devices such as smartphones and even fitness trackers like Fitbit, Jawbone to view popular running routes in major cities or remote areas.
The company’s latest version of the heat map revealed more than 3 trillion individual GPS data points covering 27 billion kilometers of a distance of the run.
How it Began
These patterns were first identified by Nathan Ruser, a 20-year-old Australian student who is also working as an analyst for the Institute for United Conflict Analysts when he came across the latest heat map released by Strava. He observed that the map made US bases “clearly identifiable and mappable.”
He then took the news to Twitter on Saturday saying, “If soldiers use the app like normal people do, by turning it on tracking when they go to do exercise, it could be especially dangerous. This particular track looks like it logs a regular jogging route. I shouldn’t be able to establish any Pattern of life info from this far away.”
As the application is majorly used by the countries in the west, the remote locations of Afganistan, Syria, Yemen and etc in the heat map made it clear about the foreign military bases. Generally, the location of military bases are well-known and the satellite images can also reveal the structure of these buildings. But, with the heatmap, one could know the most used routes and even the pattern of life of the military personnel.
Responding to the news, Strava said that the information in the heat map is anonymized, and “excludes activities that have been marked as private and user-defined privacy zones” i.e, one can opt out of data collection on heatmap by turning off data sharing in the app’s settings for privacy concerns.