Military base locations revealed by soldiers' Strava fitness tracking data

Bill Rogers
January 30, 2018

In can be deemed a security oversight, the heatmap is inadvertently revealing location data of soldiers at US military bases.

The company's review of 2017 showed all routes taken by its users across the world.

The Global Heatmap was released at the beginning of November, at which time its creators were boasting that it was the "largest, richest, and most attractive dataset of its kind" (a sentiment enemies of the U.S. will definitely agree with). But experts and keen observers have recently realized its potential to reveal location patterns of security forces working out at military bases in remote locations.

The map doesn't include live data.

The company said its heatmap is based on public data only. You can use it as a tool for deciding where to go on your next jog or cycling adventure by zooming into a particular location.

It appears to show the structure of foreign military bases in countries including Syria and Afghanistan, as soldiers move around inside.

Military base locations revealed by soldiers' Strava fitness tracking data
Military base locations revealed by soldiers' Strava fitness tracking data

The problem, according to BBC News, is that soldiers going on runs use Strava on their phones, which means they have an active Global Positioning System.

"As bad as the publicly available heat map is, the underlying data that Strava is collecting is a security nightmare for governments around the world", Lewis said. Using 13 trillion points of data, it's a really cool way to find new places to run and new challenges. This has raised security concerns about personnel at United States military bases around the world.

The heat map shows more than three trillion individual Global Positioning System data points and one billion activities ever uploaded to Strava. In countries like Niger, the heatmap highlights the activity of U.S. soldiers on military bases keeping fit. The perimeter of the main Russian base in Syria, Hmeimim, is clearly visible - as are several routes out of the base that are presumably taken by patrols, he said.

Strava's map highlights a series of well-known military bases in Iraq, in detail. Giving away your data to a service can have its implications, especially when there is an open-for-all platform where anyone can have a look at the information. It's one thing to try to discern any viable information from a heat map of the U.S. or Europe, and quite a different thing to discover potential bases in war zones.

In a statement, Strava said that the data it used to create the map had been anonymised, and "excludes activities that have been marked as private and user-defined privacy zones". "I expected it to languish in wonk circles and open source circles until the USA government quietly fixed the problem, but instead it seems to have blown up a lot more than I would have thought". The company added that it's "committed to helping people better understand our privacy settings".

More news: Syrian opposition will not attend Russian peace conference

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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