On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Garmin and Privacy: should we be worried?

Two weekends ago, when I ran (literally, ha ha) into an acquaintance of mine, we got to talking about tech toys for tracking our running.  He wears a Nike+ and I pointed out that I wear a Garmin.  "Oh," he said, without missing a beat, "so I can tell exactly where you live!"

Yeah, I guess you can.  If you click on my training log and then click on an individual workout, and then further click on the map embedded in the workout (for any of the days when I wear my Garmin), you'll see exactly where it is on the map of NYC that my Garmin typically picks up a satellite signal.
Me, waiting for the satellites to load...

Let me spare you the effort: if you do this, you won't actually know much about me.  Even if you pinpoint my exact corner, you've narrowed it down to one of several large buildings.  There are 50 apartments in my building alone, so you've pinpointed me exactly... with an error margin of several hundred apartments.  In fact, I'm even including a picture of me with my Garmin at a corner near my apartment just to help you stalk me, if you're so inclined.

I'm not naive to internet safety, but my friend and I did share a chuckle over someone he knows who lives in a less dense area and whose Garmin tracings allow him to see this friend exit out of his front door, head to a running path, and then later return to his exact address.

So, if your plan is to trace my whereabouts in order to use your knowledge for evil, don't bother.  I don't have a set schedule.  I don't have a set route.  I never carry cash or credit cards or other valuables when I run.  I don't live alone, so my apartment is still occupied by a roommate (and a dog) when I leave (and I have no valuables, anyway, unless you happen to share my love of Trippen shoes and wear a women's 8.5).  Does this make me "safe"?  Of course not.  That said, these technologies are something to think about.  I tend to hide behind the huge scale of New York City, allowing the fact that I'm never really safe to lull me into a false sense of pseudo-security.  And certain things I can't compromise on any longer: now that I've tasted the sweet nectar that is the post-run Garmin data-dump, running without one just feels so... primitive.  How on earth did I run for nearly a decade without knowing my heart rate?  My exact distance to .01m?  My calories burned???  Geesh.


  1. Wow, worries me a bit that they can actually track you... Hmmm...Big brother is watching you, huh? ;)

  2. Hahaha, I RARELY start my runs from home, so that wouldn't be an issue for me. And the runs I start from work don't pick up a signal until I'm almost a mile in...

  3. I don't live in an awesome place like New York, so I almost always start my runs from home. But with all the information these watches/applications give us, I couldn't run without them either. Is that crazy that we are potentially risking something (anything I suppose?) just to have data reaffirm our runs? It is crazy, I guess. But I couldn't do it any other way!

    I found your blog from Skinny Runner and I really like the way you write!

  4. Thanks, Shelby! I appreciate the compliment about my writing - hope you like the blog :)
    But I agree about the data. The good thing is, odds are on our side. Luckily bad things don't happen all that often - very luckily, since I'm not giving up my Garmin!