A secret missile command center in Taiwan: no longer secret.
Underground tunnels in Syria or Iraq: unwittingly revealed.
Soldiers’ routes through military bases: lit up like a Christmas tree.
These are some of the unintended consequences of our connected world. Strava’s global heatmap has been a hot news story this year. Here’s the basic scoop:
Strava Labs is a GPS tracking company. In November, they updated their global Heat Map of the planet: “more than a billion exercise activities globally,” according to NPR. Strava posted about the update on Medium, explaining that it was their first major update to the map since 2015. “This update includes six times more data than before… [it’s] the largest, richest, and most beautiful dataset of its kind.”
Here’s what they listed as what you can find on the updated heat map:
- 1 billion activities
- 3 trillion latitude/longitude points
- 12 trillion pixels rasterized
- 10 terabytes of raw input data
- A total distance of 27 billion km (17 billion miles)
- A total recorded activity duration of 200 thousand years
- 5% of all land on Earth covered by tiles
That’s a lot of data. Big data, if you will, and since releasing it to anyone who hits up their website, users have been “visiting” all sorts of locations worldwide. Those users have then shared what they’ve found on Twitter and other social media channels. Some of these unintended consequences of sharing all of this data (which was collected by users sharing their location while running, cycling, hiking and similar activities), have drawn big attention. Like the attention of the Pentagon. Why? Because some of Strava’s users are soldiers. And as they track the soldiers’ activities, they have flagged military locations on the heat map.
The next Mission Impossible movie needs to include the tech guy sitting at his computer, browsing through Heat Maps to check on supply and patrol routes at the military outposts of the bad-foreign-guy protagonist they’re dueling with. Riveting action stuff, people.
Some of the Twitter posts about this have been rather humorous (while simultaneously revealing possibly sensitive military information for many countries’ forces). Tobias Schneidor posted a Twitter picture of Mosul in Iraq and captioned it, “Outposts around Mosul (or locals who enjoy running in close circles around their houses).”
This is just the latest story in today’s connected world of unintended consequences. It’s a great example of how we want to have it both ways!
We argue for transparency, but we want our privacy.
We don’t want to be tracked, but we want to know how many steps we took in a day.
Some argue that people are jumping to conclusions about these updates highlighting military operations. And that argument is valid and points out a scary fact: these could also be highlighting relief operations. Who’s to say it’s not a refugee camp, offering safety from a nearby war, filled with volunteer aid workers, wearing Fitbits?
The bottom line: reviewing security policies is forever an ongoing need for individuals, businesses and governments alike. How often do you review yours?