Strava is for Terrorists

It’s not particularly often that I agree with the White House these days, but hell – when they’re right, they’re right. In this case, they’re right about Strava.

If you ride a bike for sport, or go for runs, or identify, generally, as interested in fitness, you’ve probably heard of Strava. It’s a fitness tracking app that allows users to compare workouts with friends, and offers a variety of data visualization tools. One of those tools is a heat map, released in November, which shows areas of highest use by Strava members.

Strava heat map. Tools for terrorists.

This is not inherently nefarious. But over the weekend an Australian student noticed that the new mapping feature clearly identified what appeared to be forward operating bases of US military personnel, active security patrols in Syria, and a number of facilities that appear to be classified. I guess the Army loves Strava.

This, of course, raised the concern that the Strava dataset can be used to identify not only the location of clandestine facilities, but also to track individual service members and track their whereabouts while deployed, as well as at home, after the tour. National security experts, and the White House, agree that “it’s really clear that that heat map is a security risk,” and that the software exposes individuals to attacks.

And while it’s getting attention now as a tool for international terrorism, those of us on the trails back home know that it’s been used for domestic, trail terrorism for years.

The premise of the software is that it times your progress on a ride, or a run, or a ski, or whatever. But in doing so, it turns every ride into a race. Under the guise of “training,” or “trying to beat Stinky up Woods Gulch,” Strava appeals to our basest competitive instincts. When the clock is running, everyone else had better get out of the way. There’s a KOM on the line.

This goes well beyond a decay of basic trail etiquette. Racing means laying it on the line sometimes, which is why races tend to have closed courses. Strava racing, on the other hand, has been involved with numerous deaths as athletes pursue winning times on busy roads.

This is not to say that we should never ride fast, or take chances, or try to beat our friends. All that stuff is great. But the place for racing bikes is in a bike race. So if you need to lean back on the national security threats of Strava to get off that thing, then great, let’s do that. The rest of us will just be out for a ride.

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