A heat map published on the Internet by fitness tracking company Strava may have been inadvertently giving away sensitive secrets. An Australian student used the service to reveal the locations and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases.
Twenty-year-old university student Nathan Ruser stumbled across the map on a blog and was inspired to look more closely after his dad reportedly offered that the map gave a snapshot of “where rich white people are” in the world.
So Ruser got to thinking.
“I wondered, does it show U.S. soldiers,” Ruser told the Washington Post.
“It sort of lit up like a Christmas tree,” he said after zooming in in Syria, where the scant jogging activity beams out from an all-black background.
Strava has since urged its users to check their privacy settings.
While the locations of military bases are generally known, there are concerns about the level of activity it reveals about personnel inside and around the bases.
The revelations have piqued concerns among observers and security experts around the world.
According to the Washington Post, the US military is looking into the situation.
Arms Control Wonk blog publisher Jeffrey Lewis wrote in The Daily Beast that it was “incredible” to see people taking smartphones or other devices past checkpoints into places they really shouldn’t be.
“As bad as the publicly available heat map is, the underlying data that Strava is collecting is a security nightmare for governments around the world,” Lewis said.
“The data being collected could allow anyone with access to it the ability to make a pattern of life map for individual users, some of whom may be very interesting.”
Ruser, who is reportedly studying international security at the Australian National University, told Australia’s national broadcaster he has been following the situation in Syria since 2014.
For his part, he doesn’t think it’s Strava’s fault.
“They probably should have had the foresight to look at the map before they released it, but the app has a policy where you can opt out of data sharing, and that hasn’t been done by the soldiers,” he said.
“If you ask me, I don’t expect the map will be online for that much longer.”