Fitness Trackers Could Boost Urban Planning

John Lister's picture

Fitness tracking company Strava is to share four billion pieces of user data. Unlike previous glitches, it's a deliberate action designed to help urban planners.

The news came to light as Strava sent an email to customers to remind them that its user agreement gives it the right to share and sell user data as long as it is in completely anonymized form. Users can opt out, but their data is collected by default.

The company is bundling the data, which includes details of walks and cycle rides, as a commercial product called Metro. The idea is that buyers such as urban planners and cycling promotion groups could find it useful.

Routes Could Be Rethought

According to the email to customers, Strava is making the move because of changes in traffic movements with more people working from home and avoiding unnecessary journeys. While it's too early to say if the changes are permanent, some roads are busier and with less demand for on-street parking. That could mean it's viable to add designated cycle lanes or changing the recommended fast and safe routes for cyclists.

Several cyclists have already noted a flaw in the theory, however. Existing data shows the routes cyclists have been taking which will often involving diversions for safety. It doesn't reveal quicker routes that they would prefer to take if the roads were clearer. (Source:

Military Secrets Revealed

It's certainly a different story to the last time Strava made the news for its user data going public. Back in 2018 an international security student noted maps highlighting popular walking and running routes in and around several US bases in countries with an unstable security situation.

The student realized the routes could reveal the location of buildings inside the base that aren't visible from outside and are blurred on public satellite image. The data also appeared to show off-base running routes which were likely used by soldiers who believed they were safe areas. (Source:


What's Your Opinion?

Is this an acceptable use of customer journey data? Will it make a difference to urban planning? Does it make a difference that Strava is reminding customers about its policies and giving example of how the data could be useful?

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rohnski's picture

How do you anonymize geolocation data?

If your run/ride starts at home or work every time (or even just frequently), well, boom, your data points back to you generally. Add a couple more data points and they can nail you down specifically.
Sure, they piously claim to anonymize data, but unless they group it with other results, the details in your data will most likely be able to be de-anonmyzed. So, saying "user(s) used this route 15 times" is not bad, but if they say "user A used this route 10 times and user b used this route 5 times", less OK.
There is a long history of de-anonymizing data.
... a computer algorithm that can identify 99.98 percent of Americans from almost any available data set with as few as 15 attributes ...

2000 -

"A 2000 study found that 87 percent of the U.S. population can be identified using a combination of their gender, birthdate and zip code."

Actually, de-anonymizing goes back at least to the 1970's when some politicians had their Pron VCR rentals deanonymized and published. Lead to an early data (video rental specific) privacy law.