TMI? Fitness-tracking ‘heatmap’ could compromise secret military locations


Fitness wearables and apps are very useful when trying to keep in shape, and members of the U.S. military have embraced the technology wholeheartedly. However, easy access to all that information online may have an unexpected downside.

Strava is a social networking app geared towards athletes, where users can upload their fitness data, and it uses GPS tracking data for a variety of website applications. One of the projects of Strava Labs is a “Global Heatmap,” an easily accessible visualization of the network data, that shows popular running and cycling routes. The heatmap boasts data from more than one billion activities all around the globe.

However, military analysts told The Guardian that the level of detail in the maps can also reveal the location of secret military facilities, some of them in conflict areas.

“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,” said analyst Nathan Ruser. “U.S. Bases are clearly identifiable and mappable.”

Forward operating bases in Afghanistan, for example, can easily be mapped by their jogging trails, even though those military instillations don’t appear on services like Google Maps.

An Afghanistan veteran on the hacker site ycombinator noted, “A well-established military base, even in a combat zone, has access to wifi and cellphone network. We are constantly training physically, and we like to keep track of ourselves. We were early adopters of fitness trackers, and I used a couple of them myself also.”

In remote locations, the Strava users seem to be mostly U.S. military personnel, making them easily identifiable. “In Syria, known coalition (i.e., U.S.) bases light up the night. Some light markers over known Russian positions, no notable coloring for Iranian bases,” observed analyst Tobias Schneider. “A lot of people are going to have to sit through lectures come Monday morning.”

As The National points out, users of social media have already been posting military base locations and possibly exposing ongoing covert operations in places like Mali and the South China Sea. Strava was unavailable for comment when contacted by the website.

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