Enlarge / A heatmap of Strava “workout” data revealed sensitive locations around the world, including some mysterious places in Syria. (credit: Strava)
On January 27, Nathan Ruser, a founder of the Institute for United Conflict Analysts, started looking at a rich source of geospatial data for locating military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other conflict zones: a newly published “activity hotmap” for the fitness tracking application Strava. Others, including Tobias Schneider, started plumbing the depths of the Strava data store, based on data pulled from app users’ mobile devices.

The heatmap was meant as a demonstration of the mass of activity over 2017 by Strava users.
But it, along with the other data available through Strava’s website and APIs, also may be exposing sensitive “patterns of life” of military and contractor personnel in conflict zones and even information about individuals in some of those places.
There’s nothing in the heatmap that specifically identifies who is connected with the data for a very confined path of movement in a compound northeast of Raqqa, for example, or the long tracks of what is most likely a vehicle route from Iraq to northern Syria.

But those traces on the heatmap, along with others in areas around the world linked to military operations, have highlighted sometimes covert locations from Niger to Ukraine to Taiwan.

And with a little work, it is in some cases possible to connect those activities to individuals—and track them back to their homes.
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