January 30, 2018Published by: Joe Cant

Things are getting ‘heated’ on Strava…

As an avid triathlete, I would say that Strava is the social network for athletes. The service, which tracks sporting activity via GPS and has had over 1 billion uploads to date, shares data with users across the globe.

While Strava is already famous among athletes (particularly cyclists and runners), this week the app made headlines in more controversial circumstances when its global heatmap was launched. It seems that some people using Strava-enabled devices have been carrying out some pretty sensitive jobs indeed, which has raised questions around data sharing.  

We’re in an ever-evolving time for data sharing and Strava is yet another example of technology appearing to outrun (pardon the pun) privacy sensitivities by innovation. You could argue that in 2018 a social media platform isn't even a social media platform without some form of controversy. In Strava’s case, its users from around the world build and publicly share a map of activity, whether it's on foot, bike, wheelchair, kayak or whatever else they want to use it for. Strava lists 31 activities you can find the app useful for, but the possibilities are endless.

It’s easy to look at the recent stories and call Strava the bad egg, but does publicly displaying data that’s readily available mean the app is to blame for stories like this week's where soliders inadvertently exposed military bases?  

It’s easy to forget this data is useful and important to some of the greatest athletes, scientists and coaches in the world. It’s this tracking that also enables Strava’s beacon feature to keep track of people in vulnerable places at vulnerable times (or help find a lost phone).

Since the heatmap news broke, Strava’s CEO James Quaries has released a statement, explaining that the company is taking the matter seriously, that it understands the responsibility related to the data shared (as well as outlining steps to respond), and how people can use the app's privacy settings.

There have long been stories and concerns involving Strava users, in particular cyclists, having their bikes stolen due to thieves targeting their home (logged at the end and beginning of their activity), as well as reading equipment information or photos the user has stored on their phone. Of course, anyone who shares information about their whereabouts online could, in theory, allow thieves to know when to target people's houses.

So, as an avid Strava user myself, I’ve put together some tips to ensure you’re looking after your security when sharing your location for performance reasons…

  • Make regular activities private when sharing data on social media or apps
  • Set up hidden locations for your office and home address with at least ⅛-mile radius (there’s a ‘privacy radius’ in the Strava settings)
  • Try to post images of scenery and not your expensive equipment  
  • Keep your stuff secure whether it’s at home, the office or elsewhere
  • If naming your equipment, give it a nickname, instead of its make and model
  • If you can, use the Strava Premium feature, which is packed full of great features to get the best out of you as an athlete (not strictly privacy-related, but still good)

The Strava story is one we’ll be watching closely, as it's likely to have an impact on the future of all activity apps, location sharing, and how Strava itself evolves. Definitely worth tracking.

(PS: you can find me on Strava at www.strava.com/athletes/12123319


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