STRAVA – Media Idiocy around Heatmap

OK. I’m just about to fall in the trap of calling lots of other people ‘idiots; and then go and do precisely the same thing myself. I’ll add my poor attempt at a defence against idiocy later.

The story goes that the likes of STRAVA, Suunto, Fitbit and others, who have HEATMAPs of user activity as part of their online sports data platforms, are responsible for showing the locations of (well-known) military bases all over the world. OR, more specifically, they are showing the places where lots of military personnel (and others) exercise whilst on these bases.

We get stories like these indicated by the web screenshots I’ve included below.

Let’s now look at the Russian Military Port of Tartus/Sevastopol on STRAVA (go East from Cyprus and you’ll find it). Yes the STRAVA Heatmap shows similar soldier activity to the US in Afghanistan too – admittedly much less of it. Unsurprisingly the people that run up and down the dock did so on the dry bit (sigh).


And then I tried to find the 7000-man Russian military base near Sokhumi. I expected a flash of golden, super-fit Russian soldier heat trails. Admittedly I couldn’t even find the military base…on google maps or STRAVA.

The story moves on.

STRAVA’s CEO (Quarles) then issued a statement which included:

“Here’s what we are doing in response to what we’ve learned:

  • “We are committed to working with military and government officials to address potentially sensitive data
  • “We are reviewing features that were originally designed for athlete motivation and inspiration to ensure they cannot be compromised by people with bad intent.
  • “We continue to increase awareness of our privacy and safety tools.
  • “Our engineering and user-experience teams are simplifying our privacy and safety features to ensure you know how to control your own data.”


That sounds like they aren’t going to do much about it. Call me a cynic.


So let me try to sum this up:

  1. Military and other personnel at military bases, out of naivety, kept their STRAVA profiles public. This is clearly NOT their fault.
  2. This anonymised data can be seen aggregated, visually as trails on a map. Especially by terrorists and enemy agents who had previously never even considered peaking at the aforesaid military establishments…until now.
  3. This is REALLY sensitive data. Really sensitive. Let’s be clear about that.
  4. So just about every western media outlet (and now including stupid old me) has publicised it. Hence jeopardising their own national and personal security all in the hope of a good story. #sigh
  5. Either that’s stupid. Or it isn’t a good story. Hint: It isn’t a good story.
  6. The Russians tentatively appear to have been much less guilty of the same irrelevant naivety. Someone else can check China and I suspect there are no STRAVA accounts in North Korea (edit: there’s about 3)
  7. Summary: It’s clearly STRAVA’s fault because no-one took advantage of the pre-existing security features.


On the flip side, STRAVA have probably significantly increased their number of PREMIUM members over the last week. Essentially terrorists and journalists both signing up to view the heat maps and plan the downfall of Western Society as we know it.

Or, perhaps STRAVA planted this story for commercial gain? Hint: #sigh.

In my defence about re-posting the Wareable and BBC screenshots? I thought one of them looked slightly saucy if you squint.


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4 thoughts on “STRAVA – Media Idiocy around Heatmap

  1. not sure about the “naivety” and particular the russian counterpart, might be GPS watches able to upload to Strava or/and phones with strava app are nto so common in Russian military or elsewhere outside the US/Euro as core market … also interesting question (that news didn’t ask yet) how much of the fancy looking heatmap data is interpolated by Strava’s own algorithm… there are in my own neighborhood clearly areas marked with bright colors that nobody runs there as it’s a highway tunnel under water blocked for pedestrians or bicycles … probably Strava takes the start and the endpoints of these tracks and interpolate the middle section by their own …

  2. In all the coverage I feel I want to mention the positive safety aspect of the global heatmap, which is being forgotten in all of this. Runners and cyclists from across the world can use it to find safe, and enjoyable rides and runs based on essentially globally published knowledge of locals. This means travellers are on safe roads rather than risking not knowing where is good or safe. This shouldn’t be forgotten in all of this.

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