Why a Fitness-Tracking App Is Selling Its Data to City Planners

Illustration for article titled Why a Fitness-Tracking App Is Selling Its Data to City Planners

Strava, a popular fitness-tracking app for runners and cyclists, just announced a new initiative. Because the app collects so much location information about people on the move, the company is now selling its data to local governments, where city planners can put it to use. Good idea!

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Just think about it. It's city planners' job to make urban living more manageable, and the more information they have about how people move around in cities, the easier that proposition becomes.

Strava's first customer, Oregon's Department of Transportation, paid $20,000 for data from nearly 20,000 cyclists in hopes that it might help them figure out how to handle the steadily increasing bike traffic in cities like Portland. "Right now, there's no data. We don't know where people ride bikes," Jennifer Dill, a professor and urban planner at Portland State University, told The Wall Street Journal. "Just knowing where the cyclists are is a start."

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Illustration for article titled Why a Fitness-Tracking App Is Selling Its Data to City Planners

Oregon's not the only one interested. London, Glasgow, and Orlando have all signed up with Strava to make use of the app's already massive and steadily growing pool of data.

Strava's not the only company with this idea, either. Just a few weeks ago, Gizmodo covered another app that's selling public transit data to cities. Margi Bradway, a policy analyst for Oregon's transportation department, explained to the Journal just why there's a trend:

Bradway said purchasing Strava data is an experiment. "We're dipping our toe into the idea of big data with this project," she said. If it proves useful, Bradway could see her agency buying data from all sorts of private sector sources that, thanks to the proliferation of sensors in smart phones and wearable technology, are producing information urban planners only dreamed about a few years go.

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In other words, we're all walking sensors now. Or at least, we're walking—and cycling and driving and even floating—around with sophisticated sensors in our pockets. The aggregate data these sensors pick up can tell governments a lot about the citizens' behavior and, from that, they can plan better. The more you know! [Bike Portland via WSJ]

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DISCUSSION

deevee
Emerald D.V.

This is great if you're catering to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of lifestyle, but it totally ignores all the people who bike for reasons that don't involve them owning a smartphone and tracking their exercise with it. Then again, big-data-OMG-Millennials city planning efforts don't tend to care about that part of the population.

It's better than nothing, but there are rather glaring limitations.