If you track your activity, will finders be keepers?

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

I’m an avid cyclist, especially when the weather is warm and dry. I can ride in the winter, but I am averse to windy, rainy and icy conditions. However, many others are not being deterred by the current inclement conditions from their commitment to keep fit.

Cycling app StravaA fair few of them log their rides on Strava, as will I when I jump back in the saddle next week. It’s an app for cyclists that allows us to log our rides with detailed accuracy.

I did it every day in the summer without fail. It shows me the speed, distance and elevation of my rides. My rides are broken down into segments and I can compare my speed on those segments from one ride to the next. If I want to, I can even compare my speeds to other Strava users who ride on that same segment. And I have a gargantuan number of potential competitors.

"It may be possible to deduce a person’s age, gender, and the make and model of the bike they use."

Strava has approximately one million active users, who log not only their two-wheeled activities but everything from kitesurfing to cross-training, hiking and yoga. But running and cycling are the most popular activities and, in 2017, users uploaded 136 million runs.

That information can be very revealing. For those who log their run or ride to and from work on any app, a nefarious hacker - or even just a nosy parker - could decipher the home address, work address, daily routine and route taken. Sensitive stuff. Also, depending on how detailed the profile is, it may be possible to deduce a person’s age, gender, and the make and model of the bike they use - details that a robber might like to know.

Cyclist on bike commuting in cityA cyclist in Greater Manchester believes that his use of Strava assisted thieves in identifying the location of the two bikes woth £1,500 that were stolen from his garage in 2015. The victim said that his garage is not highly visible, his cycle routes usually ended at his home address and he revealed the models of his bikes on the app.

In that same year, Dorset Police issued a warning to cyclists using ride logging apps to mask the location of where they stored their bikes. This followed a spate of high-value bike thefts in the Poole area. These thefts took place aided by insecure user behaviour that could not be avoided by a stringent privacy policy.

In 2017, Strava users gave each other 2.3 billion “kudos”, equivalent to a pat on the back in British English. With some riders going to extraordinary lengths to chronicle fast times and impress others and accumulate applause, users of all activity tracking apps need to make sure that they maintain just a bit of anonymity to keep themselves and their property safe.

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