Published: Mon, July 09, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Polar fitness app leaks military personnel locations

Polar fitness app leaks military personnel locations

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.

Just six months after competing fitness tracking company Strava came under fire for revealing the location of U.S. military bases, Finnish wearable company Polar has experienced similar privacy concerns and has suspended its "Explore" service as a result.

A joint investigation by Bellingcat and Dutch journalism platform De Correspondent found that the app is "revealing the homes and lives of people exercising in secretive locations, such as intelligence agencies, military bases and airfields, nuclear weapons storage sites, and embassies around the world". The data collected includes heart rates, dates, times, exercise duration, and routes of runs taken. By analyzing the start and end points of workouts, it is reportedly possible to locate the homes of users. From there, hundreds of servicemen were identified by searching social media for their full names, which they chose to provide publicly on the Polar app.

However, the investigation claims that despite many users making their profiles private it was able to find user details due to "an oversight in the Polar app".

Bellingcat's investigation identified people working at the FBI, the NSA, Americans in the Green Zone in Baghdad, Russian soldiers in Crimea, troops on the North Korean border, individuals serving on submarines, and military personnel working in missile defense and cyber security to name but a few.

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After apparently being notified about the report on its flaws, Polar announced on Friday it was "temporarily" shutting down the Explore API feature, used in Flow.

Falling short of acknowledging its responsibility for the potentially disastrous data leak, Polar instead pinned the blame on the users themselves, noting that "the decision to opt-in and share training sessions and Global Positioning System location data is a choice and responsibility of the customer". "It is important to understand that Polar has not leaked any data, and there has been no breach of private data", Polar said.

The firm added that it had been aware that the potential existed for sensitive location data to appear in public information, saying that it had chose to temporarily suspend the Explore API, which allows users to share information about training sessions.

It also stressed that the vast majority of its customers have been using the default private settings and will not have been impacted.

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