Strava's Heatmap reveals military bases and more

Privacy concerns aren’t limited to military matters

Strava’s Heatmap traces the routes of athletes all over the world. This anonymous data is aggregated by Strava Metro and used by urban planners to improve infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. But as recently reported by numerous media outlets, this wealth of data also has the potential to reveal sensitive information that could be used for nefarious purposes, should it fall into the wrong hands.

Strava released the latest Global Heatmap last November, but it wasn’t until this weekend that several security analysts decided to zoom in on conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa. What they saw were bright areas tracing the outline of bases and runways used by military personnel and U.N. Peacekeepers.

Bright lights in a sea of black: a U.S. military airbase in Afghanistan
Bright lights in a sea of black: a U.S. military airbase in Afghanistan

By its nature, Heatmaps show how often routes are traveled, which has the potential to reveal frequently traveled routes used for exercise as well as resupply.

International security experts have expressed concerns that terrorists could use this data to carry out kidnappings, ambushes and IED attacks.

Heatmaps aren’t the only issue

A running segment along the beach in Mogadishu, Somalia
A running segment along the beach in Mogadishu, Somalia

While the majority of media attention has focused on the security issues posed by the anonymous data displayed in the Heatmap, it is also possible to search for specific segments in these regions.

Strava segments in Somalia and Afghanistan have names such as "Sniper Alley," "Blackhawk Row" and “IED Dash.”

This morning, Strava issued a statement that the company is “committed to working with military and government officials to address sensitive areas that might appear.” 

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Military is revising its rules for fitness tracking in the wake of this news.

Global and local implications

Strava's Heatmap has the potential to reveal sensitive information, such as the location and habits of U.S. and U.N. personel
Strava's Heatmap has the potential to reveal sensitive information, such as the location and habits of U.S. and U.N. personel

This trove of data doesn’t pose the same geopolitical risks to the average Strava user, but it is a reminder to consider how much data you’re willing to share with the world.  

First and foremost, make sure you establish a privacy zone around your home. Also consider giving the bike you ride a generic name, rather than showcasing the fact that you own an expensive road or mountain bike.

You can also opt out of providing data to Strava’s Heatmap. Last but not least, consider making your profile private so only athletes you approved have permission to view your activities.

Click here to learn more about how to manage your privacy settings on Strava.

Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA

Related Articles

Back to top