Disturbing discovery that hundreds of swim event participants were tracked for days by GPS on their phones across Australia and beyond in embarrassing privacy tangles
- Swimmers with the smartphone app had their location tracked
- A swimming event revealed locations four days later
- Perth to Rottnest Swim app continued to track them
Swimmers competing in a cross-channel race had their location tracked via the event’s app for four more days after it ended – with organizers apologizing for the “oversight.”
A smartphone app monitored the participants throughout the day as they took part in the 19km South32 Rottnest Channel Swim that kicked off in Perth last Saturday.
But the app continued to track participants until Wednesday, when screenshots of a live view of participants’ real-time locations were posted to social media.
The app image showed clusters of numbered individuals, teams and support teams on a map scattered across Perth, Australia and other countries after participants left the event.
The organizers apologized for not turning off the tracking feature at the end of the race, admitting it was due to a ‘mistake’. Western Australian reported.
An app monitored the day’s participants as they competed in the 12-mile South32 Rottnest Channel Swim (pictured) that kicked off in Perth last Saturday
The app continued to track participants until Wednesday, when screenshots of a live view of participants’ real-time locations (pictured) were posted to social media
It was shut down as soon as the organization was made aware of the gaffe, a said a spokesperson.
More than 2,500 swimmers had taken part in the race from Cottesloe to Rottnest Island, including participants from 10 countries.
But it is not clear how many of them have had their privacy violated.
Only contenders who volunteered to be tracked with their smartphones that day were exposed to the privacy breach.
Social media lit up over the bungle, with some people noting that the vulnerability of swimmers’ data could lead to strangers accessing their personal information through social media cross-checks.
“If you’re ever looking for a visual representation of the average person’s privacy and security awareness, that’s a great screenshot,” one commenter said.
Competitor Christine Murray, who placed 16th overall in the solo category, said there were problems even before the event even started.
“It was a bit of a talking point before the race between a few swimmers because we could also see a lot of people’s locations two or three days before,” she said.
The app image showed clusters of numbered individuals, teams and support teams on a map scattered across Perth (pictured), Australia and other countries after participants left the event
More than 2,500 swimmers had taken part in the race from Cottesloe to Rottnest Island (pictured), including competitors from 10 countries
“It needs to be brought to light because it can cause serious problems.”
She said it was “somewhat concerning” as the locations were accurate.
Meanwhile, the organizers of the iconic event said users could disable the location sharing feature at any time.
Sharing was not mandatory, but highly recommended for safety purposes on the day.
“We sincerely apologize to attendees who may have been affected by this and will be making procedural changes to ensure this does not happen again at future events,” the spokesperson said.
“The safety of all participants is the number one priority for the organizers of the South32 Rottnest Channel Swim.”