This afternoon I Googled myself, as I do from time to time. You know, just to see what’s out there and to make sure no one is writing libelous things. The first several hits were the usual — things related to my job and my race results — but then I saw a result that surprised me: there, third from the bottom was my full name and the words “Runner on Strava.”
For those of you who don’t use Strava, some brief background. Strava is an app that uses GPS on your phone or other device to track activity such as biking or running. With a premium account, I’m told you get all kinds of cool data and have the ability to set goals within the app. Even with a free account, Strava will store your runs (including pace, distance, a map, elevation, splits, whether it was a “long run” or a “commute,” etc.) and data such as your weight. Strava will talk to other apps like MyFitnessPal if you link them. There is also a social element to it — you can connect with friends or post from the app on social media, and you can see how your pace over certain stretches compares to other runners’.
I use a free Strava account to track my runs. I’ve really, really enjoyed using the app and have been very impressed with its accuracy and data features. I haven’t tapped into the social element: I only have one “follower” on Strava, and we do actually know each other in real life. Perhaps ignorantly, I always thought of Strava as having a ton of my data but being contained in the little app on my phone. I never thought about whether I would have a Strava profile on the internet for all to see…
Which is why I was a little unsettled to see my full, real name, and my location, and my mileage all there in the Google result, even though I wasn’t even logged in to Strava.
What else about myself had I been accidentally sharing either publicly or to other, non-follower Strava users?
So I started digging into the settings. Surely there is a way to control what people can see about who I am, and where I do my runs, and when I do them, I thought.
I started under Profile by changing my name on the account to my initials. Then these results wouldn’t show up in a Google search of my name, right? Verdict: unclear… when I searched several hours later, the Google results were still there with my full name, although the profile on the Strava website only shows my initials. Perhaps this in a Google indexing issue? (I don’t really know the technical term.)
Next, I went to Display Preferences, hoping there would be something like “Don’t Display My Name, My Weight, My Age, My Home, My Office, And Every Step I Take To The Entire World.” I didn’t see that option. The “display” here refers to the units and measurements displayed to me within the app.
Finally, I went to the (perhaps obvious) Privacy tab.
There, I turned on “Enhanced Privacy Mode,” which sounded like a nice thing.
What happens if you don’t select this feature?
Considering that anyone can create a Strava account, I’m personally not too keen on allowing them all to see and download my activities. With Enhanced Privacy Mode on,
- Your name will be anonymized (e.g. Susan F.) to all logged out athletes.
- Only Strava athletes that you approve can follow you.
- Only Strava athletes that you approve can see your photos.
- Only approved followers can see and download your activities on your Strava Profile.
OK, that sounds better… This is basically the setting I was looking for, plus I’ve already changed my name to my initials. (Setting aside the whole Google results issue that persists.)
But, for the sake of discussion, do I have any other options? The next question says this:
I had no clue what “Strava Labs Flyby” meant. Back to Google. According to Strava, Flyby is a Strava Labs tool that lets you playback your activity, as well as those near you, on a map and timeline. Eh, doesn’t sound like I need that at the moment.
The next option on the Privacy page allows you to create zones of secrecy on your maps. According to Strava, a Privacy Zone will hide the portion of your activity that starts or ends in your zone from all athletes.
- If you stop in a Privacy Zone during the middle of an activity, this portion will not be hidden.
- If a friend starts their activity from within your Privacy Zone, the portion that began in your zone will not be hidden on their activity.
- You will not appear on any segment leaderboard that starts/stops within your Privacy Zone and you cannot hold or earn any KOMs/CRs on those segments. Removing a Privacy Zone will reinstate your segment matches and any associated KOMs/CRs.
- Your Privacy Zone will be respected when you share to Facebook.
Sure, why not. I added a few Privacy Zones. Although my hope is that, at this point, only my one friend can see my runs anyway because of Enhanced Privacy Mode.
(Unfortunately, there is no way for me to check out what a non-follower Strava user can see about me. Unlike with Facebook, there is no “View as…” option. But I presume that when I am logged out of Strava, the profile that I see in my Google results is the profile visible to the general public (i.e., those who are not logged in to Strava).)
The final, and what appears to be the most restrictive, privacy setting option is to make all of your uploads private. When this box is checked, your activities will be uploaded as private (however, Strava assures us, you can always change them back to public on an individual basis). This feature does not appear to apply retroactively to your previous uploads, and does not appear to change what people see about your identity in your profile. I think you can go back and manually make a previously public upload private but I haven’t confirmed. With the settings I had already selected, I didn’t feel the need to use this option, but it is nice that it is there.
Long story short, aside from the fact that the Google results are still showing by full name, I feel comfortable with my new privacy settings and plan on continuing to use Strava.
I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts about the type of information social health and fitness apps and sites like Strava, MyFitnessPal, and Athlinks have and allow you to share (knowingly or unknowingly). Are there any programs you’ve come across that you’ve been particularly happy or disappointed with, from a privacy standpoint? Any funny/disturbing stories about apps posting private information to a Facebook newsfeed (my ultimate fear)?
My friend told me about this app. After reading this I’m not sure I want to use this app. I don’t want people knowing everything I do. Hmm… I’m going to really think about the app now.
Hey Johanna, Thanks for reading! My understanding is that you can control who sees what through the privacy settings in the app. I just didn’t realize what mine had been set to… oops! I think if you sign up and then choose the Enhanced Privacy Mode and opt to make all of your runs private, then no one except you would be able to see your activity. It is a great tool for tracking runs, so I didn’t intend to scare anyone away–just wanted people to know about the privacy options and the default settings. Good luck!
I’ve been a strava user for quite a while and really like the feature set for analyzing my training. When I first set up my account I went through all the privacy settings so I use the enhanced privacy mode and my home location is hidden. I allow my activities to be public…in fact, I display a Strava feed on the sidebar of my website that shows my distance, time, elevation summary for the current week. As far as the social aspect goes, I use it minimally, and have 5 or 6 followers that I know, all family. I think there are far more privacy threats on FB but that’s my take…whether we like it or not, all these apps at least have to provide a social connection feature in order to compete. From what I can tell, Strava allows that to essentially be disabled if you don’t want to use it. As far as Google still showing your name even after you turned on enhanced privacy, that could be that you just need to flush your cache…Google will cache and index to feed you what it thinks you are looking for! Nice post on Strava though…I’m drafting a technology/apps article for my site which should be ready soon and will be interested in your opinion if you get a chance to stop by.
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel OK about the Strava settings now–like you said, you can disable sharing. I just didn’t realize the way I had set it up (or it defaulted) at the outset, so I was surprised. I think Enhanced Privacy Mode is really what I was hoping for–more consistent with some of my other social media. I think it would be fun to participate in the social part of Strava, but I just hadn’t had the opportunity or the time to figure out who I know that uses it. I look forward to reading your tech post!
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