A recent news story from Albuquerque, NM ends with a dire sounding warning about using GPS tracking apps:
Authorities also say a big tip to prevent having your bike stolen out of your home is to avoid using any GPS tracking apps to map and share your routes. That can lead thieves straight to where you store your expensive ride.
The implication here is that bike thieves are monitoring ride-sharing sites like Strava and Map My Ride, figuring out where routes start or end and targeting those houses for theft. How much of a threat is this really, though?
There is no question that bike theft is a huge issue. While the emotional and financial impact for the victims can be great, the risk of prosecution can be almost negligible. But using Strava to figure out where potential victims keep their bikes? I have no data, but that seems like a really low level of risk amongst all the other possibilities.
I reached out to Strava for their response, and I very quickly received this:
We believe it is important that our members have the tools to protect themselves and control the detail of information they share.While we have not been able to confirm any cases of theft related to Strava activity uploads, we do offer a rich set of easy-to-use privacy controls for all our members.
As a leading social platform for athletes, Strava gives members the tools to manage the information they share with friends and followers. They can set privacy zones around any address such as home or office addresses, so that start and end locations of their activities aren’t shared publicly.
Andrew Vontz, Strava cycling brand manager
I also suspect that the vast majority of folks that would use an application like Strava are extremely aware of the information they are sharing. Me, personally, I don’t tend to start tracking my rides until my first initial mile or two after leaving my house anyhow (you know… gotta keep that warm up and cool down phase from messing up my averages.) But this idea of “privacy zones” seems to be a pretty clear-cut approach to mitigating the risk of thieves tracking you. If that risk does, in fact, exist.
I’m a strava user myself, but was unfamiliar with this feature until I heard about it in Andrew Vontz’s statement. I found it pretty easily on their web page by going to Settings, and selecting Privacy:
Update: I wrote a more detailed how-to of this feature on VeloReviews.com. That article describes not only how to set it up, but exactly how it changes the data displayed to your followers.
While I appreciate the sentiment of the officer quoted in the news piece, I feel it is a little bit niave – if not irresponsible – to imply that using GPS tracking apps lead to bike thefts.
But, I have been wrong before…