Friday, February 02, 2018 by Isabelle Z.
Could going out for a jog put national security at risk? If you’re in the military and you use a fitness tracker, the answer to that question appears to be yes as information published by athletic activity app Strava recently revealed secret U.S. military bases around the world.
The website and mobile app, which connects to smartphones and wearable fitness trackers like Fitbits to track and share athletic activity online, found itself in the spotlight after posting a heat map that shows where its users run, bicycle and exercise. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of activity through popular streets and suburban parks, but it’s the little lights indicating activity that popped up in some of the world’s most remote locations that is posing a big problem. That’s because they inadvertently revealed the location of not only sensitive military sites but also the movements of intelligence operatives and international aid workers, among others.
Moreover, tech-minded individuals were able to use the data shared publicly by Strava to identify the individual users whose activity appeared on the map by name, in addition to their jogging routes – which is a pretty big deal if you’re in a war zone.
In one Strava site, for example, you can click on a popular jogging route to see who runs it and at what times. One user managed to find out the name of a U.S. Army major as well as the running route he uses at an Afghanistan base.
The problem is so serious that the Defense Department has launched a review to consider putting new policies in place. The coalition fighting against the Islamic State, meanwhile, is reviewing procedures at its Syria and Iraq bases revealed by the app, where service members could be in danger as a result of the information going public.
The Middle East Media Research Institute’s Executive Director, Steven Stalinsky, told the Washington Post that we can expect groups like the Islamic State to take advantage of this information. He said: “We do know that they have a lot of computer experts and engineers working for them around the world who today may very well be checking out other ways to use Strava.”
Other experts agree, with the Harvard School of Public Health’s Signal Program on Human Security and Technology’s Director, Nathaniel Raymond, calling it a “potential catastrophe.” In a matter of just a few days, he and his team were able to gather the names and the daily routines of eight foreign aid workers working for the U.N. in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Strava is certainly one to avoid if you value privacy, and it’s come under fire in the past for making its app in such a way that users can easily find one another by name. However, Twitter, Google, Apple, Facebook, Lyft an Uber also routinely collect location information to use for marketing and other purposes.
Of course, this is just the latest in a long list of reasons you might want to avoid fitness trackers. Last year, a report from the Center for Digital Democracy warned that fitness trackers and smart watches collect a vast amount of physical and personal data about their users and can sell it to advertisers, employers, or even insurance providers. This makes people vulnerable to higher insurance premiums and job discrimination as well as identity theft.
Fitness is an essential component of maintaining optimal health, but you don’t need any of this technology to be successful. It may even work against you, as a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who used wearable devices lost less weight than those who stuck with traditional weight loss approaches.
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Sources for this article include: