• Beth Kilgo

Fitness app causes national security concerns


Strava is a mobile fitness app and website used to track athletic activity via satellite navigation. Recently, however, the app has unwittingly revealed the location, activity, and habits of military bases and personnel. The app has also revealed the location of previously secret bases in the Middle East. According to the New York Times, the CIA declined to comment.

Strava’s program works with wearable technology, allowing it to trace people’s location with precision and share it with the world; it even shows what modes of transport are used to travel these distances.

According to the New York Times, although the map does not name the people who traced its squiggles and lines, individual users can easily be tracked by cross-referencing their Strava data with other social media use. That could put individual members of the military at risk, even when they are not in war zones.

The heatmap showing a military base in question was posted online; an Australian university student discovered this and realized it could put lives at risk. While some users post their movements through heatmaps, Strava’s oversharing has been argued as a security breach.

The most problematic part of the heatmaps is that it shows clear paths between the bases, potentially leaving American troops open to attacks, since people can tell where the most used paths are by looking at the brighter lines.

According to the BBC, although the locations of military bases are generally well-known and satellite imagery can show the outline of buildings, these heatmaps can reveal which of them are most used, as well as routes taken by soldiers.

Strava is “sitting on a ton of data that most intelligence entities would literally kill to acquire,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif.

The age of technology has changed operational security from not being overheard to tracking social media or using geo-location that can be put together to pose a risk to security. Maj. Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said that the Defense Department recommends that all its personnel limit their public social media profiles. She also said that the Department was reviewing the situation.

Aside from American bases in the Middle East, Dr. Lewis of the Middlebury Institute wrote in The Daily Beast that the pattern of movements clearly showed the location of Taiwan’s supposedly secret missile command center.

Strava is not the first program to collect such information, as seen in 2016, when researchers at Kyoto University revealed that they could find the precise locations of people who used popular dating sites, even when the users took steps to disguise that information.

Strava, based in San Francisco, has tens of millions of users in many countries. The app can be used on Apple devices, Android phones, and wearable activity trackers such as Fitbit devices, Apple watches, and Garmin and Suunto sports watches.

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