GPS blamed for bike theft increase

Police urge ride-sharing platform users to tighten privacy settings

About £175,000 worth of bikes have been stolen in Staffordshire, UK, and police believe thieves are targeting bikes through GPS data logged on ride-sharing platforms.

Staffordshire Police warned bike owners to tighten up privacy settings on GPS-based ride-sharing platforms after more than more than 370 bikes – many of them with high specs – were stolen in the four months from September 2012. 

They say ride-sharing platforms could be a factor in the increase because thieves can see where regular outings begin and end, which could indicate an owner’s home. The thefts have been concentrated in the south of the county, with bikes being taken from sheds and outbuildings.    

Sgt Dave Morris, from Staffordshire Police, said: “Our investigations have shown that some of the victims had been using websites and mobile phone apps to log their routes – these sites allow users to view each others routes and track their rides. Some of the GPS data recorded and shared on these sites is so accurate you can pinpoint the house where the journeys have begun and ended.”

He added that the issue could be exacerbated by the platforms linking to Twitter and Facebook, which could inadvertently ‘advertise’ the whereabouts of bikes.

Morris said riders should check privacy settings and consider restricting who can view their data. Another option could be to start rides a few streets from their front door, he suggested.

Cumbria Police made a similar appeal in December 2012. In Holland, however, the authorities turned the tables on thieves, with GPS-baited bikes being used to track down criminals.

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