Over recent months high-value bicycles have been stolen from across North Wales, with many of these being specialist and expensive bikes worth several thousand pounds.
Staffordshire Policing investigations have shown that some of their victims had been using websites and mobile phone apps to log their cycle routes – these systems allow users to view each other’s routes and track their rides. Sgt Dave Morris from Staffordshire Police “Some of the GPS data recorded and shared on these sites is so accurate you can pinpoint the house where the journeys have begun and ended and they suspect some thieves have been using these sites to identify potential victims and high-value bikes”.
It appears that riders share their routes on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, allowing for even more people to see the details, inadvertently alerting would-be thieves to their addresses and ‘advertising’ the location of bikes. Thieves are using the technology to pinpoint their homes and steal their high-performance bikes from sheds, outbuildings, garages and in some cases off the tops of vehicles who have had cycles on racks.
Community Safety Partnerships of Flintshire & Wrexham are urging cyclists to:
- Check the privacy settings of any apps riders to check their privacy settings on cycling smart phone applications and websites.
- Avoid using Twitter and Facebook to share maps of their routes, as they could potentially identify their home addresses.
- Alternatively, opt to start the tracking function away from your home address and stop again before returning home.
Using some very basic Google-Fu Wrexham.com was able to discover not only routes in and around Wrexham, but times and dates that individuals made the trips. Start and end points were also listed, plus links to social media accounts. We are quite confident we could basically profile a person, not only down to their weekend riding habits, but type and value of bikes plus details of where and when they work. All this information is public and set to be public by the users in question.
The problem of linking public information and enabling possible crime is nothing new, a burglary proof of concept website briefly opened and then was closed due to complaints a few years ago. The site looked for ‘check in’ data linked to keywords eg. “At work” and “home”. The system simply worked out where ‘home’ was and when the person was away from that address, the site then listed the address publically.
With the increase in advanced mobile devices Wrexham.com would go a step further and encourage people to turn off all location based services unless you know what you are doing. It is possible to view ‘EXIF’ data on pictures taken by the more modern mobile phones and pull out GPS locations, which could reveal location information you did not know you were broadcasting.
(Picture: A GPS satellite above Wrexham, very very far away. To learn more about the GPS system check out this Wikipedia article here.)