A map published by a company that tracks users with fitness devices, such as the popular Fitbit and Jawbone products, and through their smartphone app was released online. The interactive image denotes the whereabouts of people subscribing to the service, and included data from highly sensitive locations, including soldiers at overseas military bases.
Strava, a GPS tracking company, uses data from satellites to located subscribers who use their fitness-oriented services and monitor their movements. This resulted in a map that showed areas where various user activities took place, including US military bases and other sensitive areas.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the heat map is predominately dark in deserts and war zones, such as Iraq and Syria, but small pinpricks of activity, which viewers of the map can zoom in on, bring attention to known military base as well as other unknown locations that may be sensitive.
It is believed the data was collected as soldiers and other personnel recorded their activity levels with their fitness devices, allowing their paths to be visible.
US Central Command spokesman, Air Force Col. John Thomas, stated on Sunday that the US military is examining the implications of the map being released.
The US military had not responded to a question regarding the presence of regulations covering the use of fitness tracking devices and apps, but the Pentagon had previously supported the devices as a method of combatting obesity, even distributing 2,500 Fitbits to armed forces personnel in 2013.
Strava’s Global Heat Map was originally posted in November, but only recently drew a significant amount of attention after Nathan Ruser, 20-year-old Australian student, discovered the information.
Ruser, who is studying international security and the Middle East, found the map after reading a mapping blog and decided to examine it more closely. He was curious as to whether the map would include data from US soldiers. When he zoomed in on Syria, the map “sort of lit up like a Christmas tree,” according to Ruser.
He took to Twitter to announce what he had found, and the information quickly led others to begin searching the map for more evidence of overseas activities, including one user who believed he had discovered the location of a Patriot missile system in Yemen.
App users are not identified on the map, and some activity may be related to various foreign aid operations, UN facilities, or military personnel from other nations who may also use the popular fitness trackers, according to international security analyst Tobias Schneider.
While some of the locations are known to be associated with US military operations, such as the Kandahar air base in Afghanistan, the map could provide additional details regarding the movements of soldiers, such as patrol routes. Additionally, some locations are not publicized, and the map may highlight these areas.
“This is a clear security threat,” said Schneider. “You can see pattern of life. You can see where a person who lives on a compound runs down a street to exercise. In one of the US bases at Tanf, you can see people running around in circles.”
Strava does provide an option to disable data transmission services, though the user must make the conscious decision to do so.