The reports examined more than 200 of these "sensitive" locations and found details of over 6,490 high-risk individuals across 69 nationalities, including locations in Russian Federation and Afghanistan. But a fitness app called Polar has inadvertently revealed more than the answer to that philosophical question; it's also leaked the locations of military bases and other secret areas.
The revelation was made possible thanks to the Finnish company's Polar Flow feature that shows workout activity of the users of its app down to the tiniest detail on a global searchable map.
Polar has issued a statement addressing the security loophole, clarifying that there has been no leak or breach of private data, and has apologized for the suspension of its Explore feature.
This could be done by looking at past routes on a single map, which may seem harmless enough, however Bellingcat claims that "Polar is not only revealing the heart rates, routes, dates, time, duration and pace of exercises" but "a$3 s people tend to turn their fitness trackers on/off when leaving or entering their homes, they unwittingly mark their houses on the map".
The investigation zeroed in on two hundred sensitive locations and, using site scraping techniques, found 6,460 individuals across 69 nationalities.
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Finding Western military service personnel was easy by cross-referencing names found on the Polar website with social network profiles such as those found on LinkedIn. Users often use their full names in their profiles, accompanied by a profile picture - even if they did not connect their Facebook profile to their Polar account.
The Explore component of Polar Flow was meant to show anonymous data on its users and their activities around the globe, displaying it in a similar fashion to the activity map that was responsible for Strava's woes earlier in the year.
We reached out to Polar for comment on the reports, who responded: "All your profile, training sessions and activity summaries are all set to private by default".
While other fitness monitoring and exercise sharing apps such as Strava have also been found to leak data, Polar publishes more information per user in a more accessible way.
Making your data really private on Polar Flow used to require a number of non-obvious steps, which most users apparently either didn't know about or didn't bother with.