Strava: mapping legal usage

Based on this wiki: Strava - OpenStreetMap Wiki

Is it ok to:

  • add/realign segments based on Strava Heatmap ?
  • mention “strava” in changeset comments ?
  • include strava in source tag ?

Even if some permissions were granted in writing form back in 2019, I remember seeing an old forum post (cannot find the link) saying that it was only granted by some product manager and not a high-ranking position (cto/ceo), hence it could be a grey area.

Since the DWG oversees copyright infringements and there has been no major changes to this wiki page since then, I assume there is no legal issue but I wanted to double check for sure with the global community.

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+1; I also wonder this. I’d like really up-to-the-minute legally-accurate information about using Strava data in OSM.


To start with the easy bit, you should always accurately document your sources, not doing so is what will get you in to trouble, being truthful is always OK. This is even more required if it is a, in a wide sense of the word, questionable source.

The problem with Strava is less the hand wavy permission in itself (it isn’t the only source we utilize that is based on a “trust me”) and that it could go away at the drop of a hat, but the fact that use of it requires hackishly circumventing protections that were put and left in place to stop exactly such use. This makes it impossible for parties that don’t want to engage in, or use tools that don’t support, such circumvention to check the underlying source for edits in OSM. With other words, it isn’t even remotely an “open” source.


Not sure it is not a circumvention, it is definitely a measure to enforce logged-in access (personal token required).

Forgetting about the fundamental problem that what you are asking for is impossible, it depends on what you are asking.

Are you asking what the potential legal jeopardy and liability for the OSMF is? It is probably minuscule, worst case in a DCMA take down such edits would have to be removed (there is nothing copyrightable in Stravas data, but circumvention of the protections and violation of Stravas ToS could be given as reasons).

Personal exposure? Just as with essentially all third party sources and imagery: you are on your own.

I appreciate your “more complete” answer. However, I’ve been in a local chapter “Mappy Hour” (Zoom conference) and somebody said she uses Strava data to “trace” something (a trail, I believe) and I thought, “huh…can we?” I said something (polite, hinting maybe that wasn’t Kosher / allowed) and she said “oh, I used my Strava login…” and then I thought “OK, now she’s really crossed the line” and left it at that.

So, yeah: I wouldn’t (couldn’t) as I’m a “good guy” (quite vigilant against violating our ODbL); I don’t have a Strava account. But I have used “JOSM magic strings” that let me “see” these data as a layer which I COULD trace, and I thought “wow, lots of trails I never knew existed around here, let alone ones I might be able to enter OSM.” Then I realized the “shady nature” of (getting, entering) those “magic strings” (WMS something or other, I think) and came to the conclusion “Naaah, I can’t enter these data.” And I think that was the right call.

Edit: What I mean by this is that I “err on the side of caution.” (To not use proprietary data in violation of ODbL).

Are you asking what the potential legal jeopardy and liability for the OSMF is? It is probably minuscule, worst case in a DCMA take down such edits would have to be removed (there is nothing copyrightable in Stravas data, but circumvention of the protections and violation of Stravas ToS could be given as reasons).

there is also nothing we could copy from the Strava service, it’s a heatmap and you have to interpret what you see, and will not be able to copy anything into OpenStreetMap, we only store vector data and this is just pixels.

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Do we actually know the reason(s) why Strava decided to limit access to the high resolution heatmap? In the post where the change was announced it just says:

The heatmap remains available to the public, but only registered Strava athletes may zoom in to street-level details of activity on the heatmap.

I’ve always assumed they did this as a response to some of the privacy related criticism they were receiving. i.e. “we take our users privacy seriously and have taken steps to mitigate… blah blah blah”. It never crossed my mind that they might be trying to prevent use of the heatmap for tracing in OSM. Was this ever stated anywhere?

I wouldn’t characterize the current methods of loading the heatmap in OSM editors as magic strings or hacky workarounds. They are just the same API keys that are used when you log into If strava really wanted to block all external access to the high resolution heatmap tiles those API keys would only work when the request originated from and other origins would be blocked.

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There was a public outcry that one was able to identify (US) military bases in the public heatmap, because Strava athletes uploaded activities while jogging in deployment.

Shortly after, Strava degraded the public heatmap and only showed the high resolution data to logged in users.

Edit: here’s some links: strava military base at DuckDuckGo

Full disclosure; I’ve used the Strava Heatmap (via this browser extension) to fix a lot of fixme=continues in the woods here in Switzerland.


I’ve also put it on my todolist to ping the new OSMF board for help with ‘officially’ clarifying the status of Stava Heatmap usage (and discussed this very shortly with @SimonPoole).

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Full disclosure; I am the author of this browser extension. In case the matching name didn’t make that clear. I also use the Strava heatmap for improving trail alignment or adding missing sections that I have knowledge of. I always tell people that the heatmap should never be used as a primary source, only for tracing the geometry of a path you already know exists from another source.


@stevea maybe they were were a Strava premium member and using their login for access to the personal heatmap feature?

I have Strava premium, it puts together personal heatmaps of your activities (you can even sort by year and activity type). I’m not sure using this would be any different than downloading your GPS traces and using them in other software unless it was against their terms of service. I haven’t used it but it would be nice to know if that was allowed.

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Yes, thanks Ariel. This is one more datum about this, but it still remains unclear (to me, anyway) whether such a use is allowed under Strava’s Terms of Service. It seems this remains an open question (here).

And Zeke, thanks to you, too (for both authorship of the extension and chiming in here), although the actual “legalese” remains murky.

Edit: I mean no pejorative by “murky,” maybe I’ll keep using the word “unclear” and I look forward to hearing more clarity from the Board.

I’ve done a lot of Strava mapping and am well aware of the limited utility it provides. I think it is a great tool and I like to use it as a reference. I would never trust one of my own tracks alone in a wooded condition even with high accuracy GPS.

As an OSMF DWG member, I’m 100% ok with the use of Strava heat map as a source provided the permission they gave us. If they were ever to issue a DMCA, then we could look at that, but until that time I think there is no problem here. Google, for instance, has occasionally given Express permission to OSM to use its imagery. This permission did not come from the Google CEO, but rather someone at the company, so I think the fact that Paul Mach gave us permission is validation enough.


Thanks, Elliott. I suppose the missing piece that I have left as unanswered is, do I need “my own” Strava account? Or is the (WMS? tms?) API string I plug into JOSM’s preferences to display the layer an “OSM-wide account” that any volunteer in the project is welcome to use? And (if the latter) where might be found an authoritative, trusted source to acquire this “link?” Thanks in advance, even if it is a Board member who has final say.

Hey, this Discourse thing is pretty cool: working!

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There was a semi-in-depth discussion about it here awhile back. I’m pretty sure the original message from the product manager is either directly cited or linked to in that discussion. If not search iD Editor’s issue tracker for Strava. I’m sure it’s easily findable. Someone also either cited or linked to it on Reddit awhile ago. Although I can’t find the post right now, but it’s out there.

The TDLR from what I remember is the manager said “you” can use Strava, referring to the person who sent them the message. It’s a grey area as to if that meant just the person who sent the Strava person the message or the wider Openstreetmap community. Personally, I’m not a lawyer. Although, I think it meant the specific person who asked about it. But that’s just my interpretation. I’m sure other people will think it meant everyone.

Either way, Strava version of iD Editor still seems to be usable. I assume someone can use it without a Strava account since I just used it to adjust a path and saved the edit. I’m actually kind of surprised that it and the letter aren’t mentioned on Wiki page.

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Just for historic correctness, Paul Mach left the company years ago and with that the active engagement with OSM stopped (they do continue to use OSM for routing and maps). The current ‘permission’ (after they removed regular access) is from somebody else (but in the group that sells their data).

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Just for the record, three years ago I wrote two posts about Strava and its permission: first about the layer (google translation) and second about the license (translation).


Thanks for clearing that up, I really overlooked this :wink:

Thanks for the point of historical correctness, Simon!