Even the military has a blind spot when it comes to just how much data we’re allowing apps and tech companies to collect — a blind spot that’s now endangering men and women stationed overseas. In November of last year, fitness app Strava updated something that seems harmless enough — a heat map of the world showing where people were running and cycling the most. This past weekend, word got out about an Australian student discovering that the heat map was inadvertently drawing attention to the locations of military bases around the world. It’s spurred a review of security procedures regarding GPS information by the military.
Strava is one of the most popular fitness community apps in the world today. Among other features, it allows runners and cyclists to record their workouts and publish maps of their routes publicly — it can be a handy feature, allowing other Strava users to find good routes in their cities. But, the key word is public — late last year, Strava took all that data that had been made public to create a global heat map. It was pretty fun! The obvious spots like Golden Gate Park or Central Park in New York were lit up brightly, and shining less brightly were the low-key beautiful routes that are now going to be not-so-low-key.
But, the heat map also illuminated unexpected areas in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and a handful of other global conflict hotspots — places where the U.S. military is active. When 20-year-old Australian student Nathan Ruser spotted Strava’s tweet of the heat map recently, the international security student saw that straight away and tweeted about it himself. The media caught on, and then the military did — and now they’re looking into how to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Not just US bases. Here is a Turkish patrol N of Manbij pic.twitter.com/1aiJVHSMZp
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) January 27, 2018