Fitness App Strava Published 'Heat Map' Details About Secret Military Bases

Image Strava

Image Strava

Exercise tracking app Strava has defended itself from accusations of accidentally leaking highly sensitive information that discloses the location and movement of USA and other worldwide military personnel with its "global heatmap".

Strava's heatmap is a visual representation of one billion of its users' activities equating to 17 billion miles (27 billion kilometres).

However, the map is not live.

This is luckily not a problem for the Dutch soldiers in Mali, whose location is not a secret. "New techniques constantly require a risk assessment".

"That needs to be communicated much better from higher-ranking officials to the people that are actually doing the runs and taking their afternoon jogs around the base", he said.

But according to a report from The Washington Post, it seems that the heatmap inadvertently mapped places that should have been kept secret.

Strava says the onus is on the public to mark their own data as private, or to create their own privacy zones to ensure sensitive data doesn't go public.

The appearance of military bases on the heatmap suggests that large numbers of military personnel across the globe have been publicly sharing their location data.

Many fitness enthusiasts are probably aware of Strava, an application that lets them track their routines, complete with precise positioning data.

Strava has yet to comment on these revelations but speaking frankly this has more to do with user behaviour than Strava tracking data.

Nathan Ruser, an Australian university student who first highlighted the issue, said he came across the map while browsing a cartography blog last week.

Ruser tweeted: "If soldiers use the app like normal people do, by turning it on tracking when they go to do exercise, it could be especially risky".

Security and privacy researcher Lukasz Olejnik pointed out that anonymising location and fitness data is challenging and should always be considered on many different levels before publishing even aggregated data. The freely-available heatmap, which can be accessed here, can zoom into any part of the world and detail the cycling or jogging routes of its users.

The Pentagon has encouraged military personnel to use Fitbits, the Post reported.

"DOD takes matters like these very seriously and is reviewing the situation to determine if any additional training or guidance is required", the Pentagon said in a statement, without directly confirming that US troops had used the fitness trackers.

In a post about the update in November, Strava said the update would include "six times more data than before - in total 1 billion activities from all Strava data through September 2017". "I expected it to languish in wonk circles and open source circles until the US government quietly fixed the problem, but instead it seems to have blown up a lot more than I would have thought".

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