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Online fitness tracking app Strava recently published a “heatmap” of data showing the physical movement paths of Strava users around the globe.  The Strava app uses mobile phones’ GPS in conjunction with wearable fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, Garmin, and Xiaomi Mi, to track users’ physical activities, capture performance metrics like speed, pace, and distance, analyze users’ performance, and compare performance metrics with other users.  As useful as this information is to Strava users, it became widely known in late January 2018 that Strava’s heatmap, easily available to the public, shows the movement of soldiers and military personnel in different global locations.  This information can be used to identify, with explicit detail, the location and layout of foreign physical military installations in countries such as Syria and Afghanistan.

Strava’s heatmap, which was updated in November 2017, is a visualization of the company’s global network of athletes.  According to Strava, the heatmap is the “largest, richest, and most beautiful dataset of its kind,” and consists of the following data points:

  • 1 billion activities
  • 3 trillion latitude/longitude points
  • 13 trillion pixels rasterized
  • 10 terabytes of raw input data
  • A total distance of 27 billion km (17 billion miles)
  • A total recorded activity duration of 200 thousand years
  • 5% of all land on Earth covered by tiles

Strava notes that the platform has numerous privacy rules in place, including an enhanced privacy mode, the exclusion of some or all private activities, the cropping of activities to respect user defined privacy zones, and the option to opt-out of contributing data to the heatmap.

Strava’s heatmap highlights a variety of issues associated with the deployment of  Internet of Things (IoT) devices.  The IoT, a broad category of technology that is generally understood to include physical devices that can collect and share data and connect to the Internet, is quickly changing every aspect of our lives, from the way we work and how we purchase goods and services to how we exercise and how well we sleep.  How these devices connect with other devices as well as consumer expectations continue to evolve is this largely unregulated space.

The FTC’s 2012 report, “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” provides further insight.

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