back to article Exercise-tracking app Strava to give away data sweated out after four billion runs, rides and rambles

Exercise-tracking app Strava, notorious for inadvertently revealing the location of military bases, will freely share an anonymised data gathered from over four billion activities logged by its users, in the name of assisting cities to plan for expected post-pandemic bicycle and walking booms. An email sent to users over the …

  1. Sampler

    Slight problem with that..

    Routes are either workouts or existing commutes, ie, where riders have to go to get to work already, rather than a preferred shorter route.

    Workouts are what's comfortable for a user in a loop so kinda irrelevant, commutes don't take into account what would be more direct routes but have to be avoided due to either being a car park (and therefore not fun to cycle down) or existing infrastructure blocking the way.

    For example I live in Sydney's inner west and my office is on the North Shore which entails a commute through the City Centre. There's a nice long street I used to take before it was closed to road traffic in favour of a tram, so now I have to loop out of my way to cycle safely and legally (and that's in both directions). That's one example of many diversions I have to take over a more direct route for safety or legal reasons that if you were looking to fit a cycle lane would be obvious from staring at the map, however, Strava data is going to tell another story with many other cyclists taking similar diversions to myself.

    Consultation with local commuters would be a better first step and they could be reached by local cycling advocacy groups (such as here with have BicycleNSW who will have lots of contact details through being an advocacy group and also offering insurance).

    Also, what about those who have "kom's" that break the world bicycle land speed record, by several factors, not that I'm inferring they've cheated and it's complete bumk data, but..

    1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

      Re: Slight problem with that..

      "Consultation with local commuters would be a better first step ...", well, the Silicon Valley wisdom is that they know best. Furthermore, that's pure data. Data never lies.

      As for Down Under, in the couple of months I was working in Melbourne, my take away was that cyclists and pedestrians are at best an afterthought in sub-urbia. However, I haven't been to Sydney.

      Not only in light of Covid should we increase human-powered modes of transportation, also in light of climate change, we could do with more walking and cycling.

      1. Sampler

        Re: Slight problem with that..

        Melbourne is generally regarded as having better cycling infrastructure than Sydney, in so much as we used to have a professional cyclist who'd fly to Melbourne for training as they didn't want to risk their life on Sydney roads...

        Having spent a year in Melbourne though I completely agree on your assessment, whilst holding the above true (sadly)..

  2. redpawn

    Toll Bike Lanes

    Got to love Urban Planning it's kind of like Harry Potter where the plans never work, and like magic the bad guys get to skim from the top. Watch for a public private partnership to construct bike lanes in exchange for tolls. Got to monetize the data some how.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Toll Bike Lanes

      I suppose they'd be like bus-lanes - great idea if only the buses would stay in them.

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: Toll Bike Lanes

        Yes, if only the busses didn't have to keep moving in to the traffic lanes to avoid cyclists.

        1. druck Silver badge

          Re: Toll Bike Lanes

          I'll just assume the down voters have never been on a bus in cyclist friendly Cambridge (UK).

  3. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    Is this not a bit concerning?

    How can it be anonymous if it shows my route from home to work and back every day?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is this not a bit concerning?

      Good thinking and good question. Strava actually have pretty good form here. There's two main strategies in play to help keep the data anonymous.

      One is that Strava wipes out any data in a semi-randomised zone around your home address or any other point you mark a "privacy zone". So in my case anything within about (not exactly - that'd be too obvious!) a kilometre of my home doesn't show up, and the same for my workplace. Given I live/work in a large city that is approximately equivalent to my postcode district, so approximately 10,000 people live under that bubble. You could probably refine it if you had the full dataset - the zones are just off-centre circles - but that's a pretty big hurdle.

      The other privacy protection - one specific to Metro/Heatmaps - is that the data are preaggregated around road and mode. This means you can ask questions like "How frequently did journeys transit this road across the day" and "What proportion of journeys were by bike" and not questions like "Show me the roads this journey used and at what time". So it becomes impractical to try and identify individuals.

      It's worth noting very similar forms of this data are already widely available from mobile operators and google based on mobile phone data transmissions. This dataset allows people using those data to contextualise it with very high quality data about modes of transport and intent of use.

  4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    When is a vehicle not a vehicle?

    Vehicle traffic has plummeted, while bike sales have soared.

    Since bikes are also vehicles this means that a lot of people bought bikes just to look at them. In other news: in many countries vehicle traffic is back between 80 and 100% pre panicdemic levels, in some places even higher as people avoid public transport.

    1. skeptical i

      Re: When is a vehicle not a vehicle?

      When it's a "device". While I agree that bicycles are vehicles and should be considered as such, i.e., we are also "traffic" that needs to be safely and equitably accommodated, states and municipalities have different legal definitions. Add electric motors and it gets interesting (now is it still a bicycle or is it more like a scooter or, um, motorbike? does this definition rely on whether the motor is "assist only" for uphills or used for long stretches of "full-on feet-off" riding?). And all that is before the entrenched cold-dead-fingers car-centric industries add their ... valued perspective ... to the discussion.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really useful data

    I'm a 'bicycle advocate' ($deity I hate that term) and this is really useful data to help build propsals for bike lanes based on real journey data instead of analysis based on peoole sitting at junctions or.manual surveys. The big advantage is going to be the ability to look at jouneys terminating at hotspots- the first investigation is going to be looking at journeys to our local train station to support the 500+ people who (in pre.covid times) ride there every day. I understand that metro will cover pre covid journeys.

    Strava are pretty good at privacy by concealing start points, either by personal privacy zone settings or by aggregation and anonmysation on routes.

    I work in the mobile industry and I've been involved in location tracking products. These are really powerful but rightfully subject to some limitations to prevent back-tracking to individual addresses, plus they cost much more than local advocacy groups can afford and don't generally give the sort of hands on experience which Strava metro is providing.

    Strava need to monetise their data to stay in business- handled properly metro is a great product to do this and the Strava's limited free offer is an overall Good Thing (tm) for bike advocacy groups to give us a good start on building bike route plans based on real data which will especially support new/nervous cyclists for whom proper bike routes are essential.

    The backlog in applications for access is a bit frustrating but I'm working with our local council to get access.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Really useful data

      But it is biased toward road cyclists doing long flat loops for race training.

      Suppose strava was big among mountain bikers, the city would start routing all bike lanes up and down the steepest hills. It would be like putting cross-walks where there is the highest density of rock climbers.

      1. skeptical i

        Re: Really useful data

        re: "[Strava metro data] is biased toward road cyclists doing long flat loops" -- yes, in my town there will no doubt be a dense amount of usage data on a loop around our town that is built for cyclists and pedestrians. But if it also shows routes taken by bike commuters who track their "commuter-cize" on Strava, it may be helpful to see what routes people take, if there is an obvious detour around something where a fix could be implemented, if some of these popular routes also line up with known car-crash areas, and other things. Worst it could do is not tell urban/road planners anything new, and the discussion of the data might be useful in its own right.

      2. Mike_1727

        Re: Really useful data

        It's not a perfect sample, but Strava does get used for utility trips too. Looking at the Strava global heat map areas like ou local train station light up pretty well. Talking to the county council GIS experts they recokn there's a fairly high correlation to actual bike traffic when they compare strava data to their static counts too. Filtering by day,time and length of journey as well as the commute/workout flags should work pretty well too. Locally I'm encouraging utilty riders to use Strava to get a better sample.

        It's not a perfect dataset, but it's much better than what we have now.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "When the community contributes their activities to Metro, they become a critical part of the world's largest collection of human-powered transport information."

    Exceptionally devious PR speak for: By letting us record your behavior, it gives us a huge new revenue flow as we sell it to the highest bidder, thanks suckers!

  7. fidodogbreath

    However, collection for Metro appears to be on by default in the Strava app and the opt-out feature is a couple of layers below the everyday UI.

    Of course. Tech bros call that "great UX," because their real users are their advertising customers. The people who upload their data are just the meat-batteries that power the Matrix.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Although anonymous collected data is sometimes a good-thing (tm)

      Track every cell phone's movement through a city and you have a good map of users and can decide who is driving, cycling, walking from their speed - so you know where to build infrastructure.

      The alternative is you do traffic surveys, so you have a couple of retired people sitting on lawn chairs doing counts on one morning.

    2. Pat Att

      I'm sure you are largely correct there, but remember that some Strava users are paying for the service, and getting additional benefits. I have no idea what proportion that is though (I'm not one of them).

  8. Danny 2

    Troll kill

    There was (is?) a horrible troll who used to plague Scottish newspaper websites, threatening folk. Really nasty, like way worse than me at my worst. Claimed to be a proud Scot living in Edinburgh, but he'd left internet breadcrumbs.

    I got hold of his fitness tracker logs, an eighty year old saddo living in Woking who'd walk maybe half a mile a week.

    I mocked him online once, but just once. As Billy Connolly said, "More to be pitied than scolded".

    First rule of the internet - play nice or be careful. There is always someone smarter over your shoulder.

  9. Chairman of the Bored

    Another 2nd order effect

    When I lived in a city years ago, my cycling route avoided certain economically disadvantaged areas. Not so much because of the people there, but the road conditions were awful... The city doesn't invest in infrastructure in the tough parts of town.

    So then if we target investments based on traffic density, and the traffic density is a function of existing infrastructure quality, do we not run the risk of further discrimination in investment?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another 2nd order effect

      Maybe, but you could also use the dataset to look for gaps in bike traffic for further investigation by combining Strava data with any other useful geographic data.

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