The app created by Strava Labs, who claim to be the social network of athletes and those interested in fitness, creates a map of the user’s efforts. Users post to this network by being active. The app works with a mobile phone or GPS enables device to track the user’s activities and then shares this information with friends.

However, Strava Labs takes this one step further by showcasing interesting side projects enabled by this dataset, which is growing by millions of activities a day and comprises trillions of GPS data points. In particular, one project involves a global heat map of all the activities contained in the social network’s dataset.

In remote areas this lights up areas where a lot of people are using the fitness app in a particular place – in many cases this appears to be a military base. Soldiers using the app create tracks that that in effect outline the contours of the base and buildings within the area. This poses a problem for the military in keeping some secrecy as to their activities.

An exmple of a heat map generated by Strava Labs. Image courtesy of Strava Labs.

Could software analysis or AI applied to the heatmap derive further information, or highlight military bases in densely populated areas that would otherwise be hidden in a sea of activity around it. This poses an interesting question for the military and security researchers. One simple answer would be to stop usage of the app by anyone in the military in remote areas.

The incident clearly brings to the fore, that as more information gets shared by networks and social media, organisations such as the military are not immune to the consequences. Apart from potentially enabling nefarious people or organisations to map out military bases there is the social aspect of users posting their achievements and pictures of themselves that could identify them and put them at risk.

According to reports the Pentagon is looking into the matter. However, organisations around the world should look to a more proactive approach rather than reactive.

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