A global map showing the distribution of people using personal fitness devices risks giving away troop movements and secret military facilities around the world, according to defence analysts who have already used it to pinpoint bases in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
The American satellite navigation service Strava last year launched its Global Heat Map, a visualisation of user data showing the location of its 27 million subscribers including owners of Fitbit, Jawbone and Vitofit fitness monitors.
Swaths of the United States and Europe show up as a blaze of colour, indicating the millions of users.
However, the map goes dark across war zones – such as Syria and Iraq – except for tiny pinpricks of light apparently showing US military personnel or international troops wearing the devices. The revelation has set off a hunt for previously unknown black sites around the world.
A spokesman for US Central Command, told The Washington Post the American military was looking into the implications of the map.
It was published in November last year and it was only this week that a student of international security and the Middle East realised the ramifications for operational security.
Nathan Ruser posted on Twitter: “It looks very pretty, but not amazing for Op-Sec. US Bases are clearly identifiable and mappable.”
He uses the light trails to identify forward operating bases in Afghanistan, what he says is the trail of a Turkish patrol in Syria and a jogging route, which could be used to map the daily pattern of life of US armed forces for use by hostile forces.
“If soldiers use the app like normal people do, by turning it on tracking when they go to do exercise, it could be especially dangerous,” he writes.
The map shows every single activity uploaded to Strava, making more than three trillion individual GPS data points, according to the company.
The trove of information has been mined by journalists and analysts.
So much cool stuff to be done. Outposts around Mosul (or locals who enjoy running in close circles around their houses): pic.twitter.com/wHItJwYUUI
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) January 27, 2018
Ben Taub, of the The New Yorker, identified what he said was a secret air field near Arlit in Niger.
“There's a revealing pattern, at least in the Sahel,” he wrote on Twitter. “If you find a heavily-used jogging route that's not near a city, expect to find a remote airstrip nearby.”
Others identified bases around Mosul, Iraq, or confirmed the locations of known facilities.
Nick Waters, a former British infantry officer, said he recognised what appeared to be a base in Afghanistan and described the map as a failure of Opsec and Persec – personal security.