Cycling with Strava – why you should worry about your privacy

About a month ago, I signed up to do the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 on 10th August; a 100 mile cycle ride that starts off in the Olympic Park, winds its way through the beautiful Surrey countryside, before finishing up on The Mall. I’ve left it late to enter as I missed out on a place in the ballot, so am now doing it for charity (find out more details on that here and for goodness sake don’t be shy about sponsoring me a few shillings!).

Over the next few months, I’m going to be feeling the strain, in the calves, thighs, glutes and lower back, as I build up to the required millage from what is effectively a standing start. Riding a bike after some time out of the saddle is of course rather like…well, riding a bike. But pootling along to the (very) local tennis club once a week in your mid-teens, is a bit different to tackling busy roads and challenging climbs – not to mention hordes of cycling club members, hell bent on riding as close to you as possible as they overtake – over a considerably longer distance.

One of the most exciting aspects of training for this event, is being able to track my progress. As I’m also feeling the strain on my finances – having shelled out quite a bit of money on a bike and all of the accessories that go with it – I’ve been reluctant to spend big bucks on a bike computer to do this. So I’m going to be using Strava’s free mobile app (there is a premium version of course but I’ll leave that for now) to track your ride via GPS and publicly rank your best time on courses or sections of road along with other riders.

I’ve been out on two proper training rides now and failed to record my progress on either occasion, but where people I’ve ridden with have been a bit more switched on, and it’s been fascinating to see the results they have recorded and indeed, the results other users have clocked up. There is however a major factor to consider when using apps like this, which usually gets short shrift, and that is privacy.

Strava does have privacy settings and if you’re using such a service, it is worth considering who you want tracking your movements, and whether it might be possible for would be thieves to identify where you live and the location of your expensive bike when not in use.

For any cyclist looking to use apps like this, I would implore them to activate Enhanced Privacy (More>Settings>Privacy>Enhanced Privacy) on the app, or the website, which means that only Strava athletes that you approve can follow you and only approved followers can see your activities on your Strava profile.

You should also look at creating a “privacy zone” around any regular start points, like your home, or office; basically anywhere your bike is regularly stored. Rides that start or finish in one of those zones will then be clipped so thieves can’t work out exactly where your bike lives. The distance and average speed of your rides however remain unchanged, which is good news. For a run-through of setting up privacy settings on Strava, check out this video on their YouTube channel.

None of what I’m saying is particularly earth shattering, but in a world where we all share an awful lot of information about ourselves online, it does bring into focus many of the privacy concerns that exist around wearable technology. Strava will be one of the first companies to provide an application for Google Glass when it launches this year and a recent poll from Toluna found that 72% of Americans cited privacy concerns as the biggest reason for not wanting to wear Glass. It is therefore important for companies like Strava to be proactive in promoting the security features it incorporates into its apps. They should also think about responding to the fears of users who may worry that their information is publicly available and leaving them vulnerable to attacks in both the real and cyber world, particularly when used in conjunction with devices like Google Glass.

For now, I’m relatively confident that my personal data is safe. Although news of the HeartBleed Bug (thanks to Mashable for this handy guide to what passwords you need to change right now) has meant that like many, I’ve had to change a whole host of passwords for various websites recently, to maintain the status quo.

You can track my progress as I train on my personal blog, although I apologise in advance that not all posts are ‘bike’ related (and remember, views my own, not reflective of Babel, etc.); wish me luck!

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