Electronic fitness trackers are exposing military secrets as the wearers unintentionally share their motion data with a mapping app that shows how they train.
Data analysts, security and military experts all joined together to scrutinise an online heatmap of fitness technology users and found data revealed more than just the training schedules of users.
By zeroing in on areas of conflict, they were able to identify the location and lay out of secret military bases and patrol routes taken by soldiers on the ground.
The investigations arose from comments made by the father of a student studying international security. He told his son the map showed where the most rich, white people lived in the world.
They then looked deeper into the map data and realised the secrets it held.
A billion activities mapped
The student, Australian Nathan Ruser,20, said: “I thought the best way to deal with it is to make the vulnerabilities known so they can be fixed. Someone would have noticed it at some point. I just happened to be the person who made the connection,”
First, it’s interesting but unsurprising that the fitness app hotspots are confined to Europe, North America and the Asia Pacific rim.
Fitness app firm Strava published the data online.
“Our global heatmap represents an aggregated and anonymized view of over a billion activities uploaded to our platform. It excludes activities that have been marked as private and user-defined privacy zones,” the company said. “We are committed to helping people better understand our settings to give them control over what they share.”
For now, the firm is asking members to understand what they share on the app is open to other people to view and suggests they should check their privacy settings.
Live fire dangers
The map also reveals some other information about fitness fans who upload data from devices sold by Fitbit and Garmin.
Many walk across dangerous government tank and artillery ranges in the UK and Europe, where they could inadvertently set off unexploded ordinance.
Others are tracked exploring wrecks – including that of the SS Richard Montgomery, a US ship that sank off the Thames estuary during the Second World War.
The ship went down with 1,400 tons of bombs, some of which are feared to have hair triggers after more than 60 years under water.