Users of the popular running app Strava are calling out it’s “creepy” privacy settings, which (unless changed) can automatically add other runners’ data onto your phone. Many have raised concerns over their own privacy and that of others, while some have also questioned whether or not it’s a good idea to share your running route online at all.
One user tweeted about her experience with the app, writing, “Ran past the same girl a couple of times on my morning run and Strava has automatically added her as a ‘group activity’. Incredibly creepy and unsettling (particularly when you consider most of us run close to home lately). And there’s no way to remove her …”
This is far from the first time users have raised their concerns, with Reddit forums dating back to five years ago full of runners asking for advice on how they can opt out of sharing data, such as their name and running route, with fellow app fans.
In April of this year, twitter account @Hannaire also pointed out that it’s been a while since people first complained about Strava’s settings being automatically set to to public, rather than private:
“#Strava privacy settings are *still* all set to public by default. Makes an #OSINT [open-source intelligence, meaning data collected from publicly available sources] gold mine for identifying the current location of individuals whilst everyone merges into Mo Farah’s on route repeat.”
— Hannaire (@Hannaire) April 23, 2020
Others, not specifically citing Strava, have posted about how it’s dangerous to be sharing your running route online every day in general: “It is actually so dangerous to post your running route online every day.”
it is actually so dangerous to post your running route online every day.
— jihan. (@jihanmarie_) August 5, 2020
Speaking to Cosmopolitan UK, app user Rosie* told us why she’s stopped using Strava, having found its privacy settings unclear and unsettling.
“I’d been using Fitbit for a couple of years but switched to Strava after taking out a free trial, as I’d been impressed by the information they can provide on your run – things like how you trend on similar routes over time and how much relative effort you put in each week. All of this was really helpful, as I was training for a half marathon at the time,” she begins.
“In late June I went for a quick 5k one morning, while out I noticed I crossed paths with the same jogger a couple of times across the route – I remembered her because she was wearing really bright patterned running leggings. When I finished my run it came up on my Strava account as a ‘group activity with Sophie B’. I recognised Sophie’s profile picture as the same jogger I’d crossed paths with several times but it gave me no option to remove her.”
Rosie continued on to explain how she felt anxious afterwards. “It sounds ridiculous but I was completely horrified at the time. I’ve since calmed down about it and just switched everything on my account to the most private setting. But because I’ve had unwanted attention from strangers on the internet in the past (after someone used the details from my business card to track me down on my personal social channels and find my personal mobile phone number too, despite me blocking them), it brought back some of the anxiety around that.”
She said she reached out to Strava at the end of June, but is still awaiting a response from them. For now, she’s decided to ditch the app entirely. “I’ve thought about it a bit since then and prevaricated between thinking it’s my fault for not having a 100% private profile and thinking Strava has a responsibility to be much clearer about how they use GPS to match you with other runners. For me, I just needed more information to understand that this was something that could happen so I could make a better decision about my settings I think.”
When we reached out to Strava, a spokesperson told us:
“When activities recorded by athletes on the same route overlap for a certain amount of time, Strava detects a match and automatically links them as a Group Activity.
Privacy Controls for Group Activities can be adjusted in the mobile app or on the web, allowing athletes to choose to appear in groups visible to ‘Followers’ or ‘Everyone.’
When your privacy controls are set to ‘Followers,’ non-followers will not see you matched to their activities.No matter which setting is chosen, athletes can always remove an individual activity from a group by using the leave group button on the website.”
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