Friday, May 24, 2024

When the fitness app Strava introduced a direct-messaging feature on Monday, the company instructed its users to “coordinate adventures” and “connect for inspiration” in the DMs.

Some of the avid runners and bikers who document their workouts on the app imagined different applications. Olivia Witherite, 30, who lives in Brooklyn and works for a startup, said the feature would “definitely” be used to flirt.

“You come off a long run and you’re all sweaty, and you’re just going to fire off that risky DM,” said Ms. Witherite, who added that she was single.

Strava, which was started in 2009 and says it has over 100 million users, combines a tool for tracking workouts with a social media platform for the kind of people who care about their mile splits. Ms. Witherite uses the app almost every day to share updates on her marathon training with her followers, and to leave comments cheering on friends in her running group.

Ms. Witherite said she was open to setting up a jogging date through the app in lieu of drinks or dinner. She’s not alone: Since the announcement, Strava users have joked on social media that the workout app may soon replace Hinge, a dating app. Running influencers on TikTok are circulating Strava-specific pickup lines: “Your pace or mine?”

Where some see the potential for a meet-cute, others are concerned that Strava may have opened up a new channel for online harassment.

The feedback in Noah Kiernan’s running group text, which contains more than 20 frequent Strava users, has been “mostly negative,” he said. Mr. Kiernan said some members, several of them women, were considering disabling messages to avoid fielding inappropriate DMs while trying to get their workouts in.

“A lot of the sentiment was, Strava is not a dating app and is not meant to be one,” said Mr. Kiernan, 27, who works in financial technology and lives in Manhattan.

Ms. Witherite, who often posts maps of her favorite running routes, shares some of those worries. “The fact that someone could see one of my runs and know the general area I’m in and then DM me is a little bit of a safety concern,” she said.

Strava’s location data has raised privacy concerns in the past. Security analysts said that data released by the company in 2018 might have indicated the locations of some military bases, endangering service members there. After the cyclist Moriah Wilson was shot and killed in 2022, prosecutors argued that her killer had tracked her using Strava.

Strava users have long requested a messaging feature, Zipporah Allen, the company’s chief business officer, said on Tuesday. But the company did not want to roll one out until it had developed privacy and safety guardrails to prevent users from getting unwanted messages, she said.

Users can choose whether they want to be able to receive messages from anyone, only the people they follow or no one at all, she said. Along with the direct-messaging feature, the company also introduced the option to block specific users, she added.

“We wanted to be really careful with making sure we preserved what makes Strava such a safe place of belonging,” Ms. Allen said.

To devoted Strava users, the sense of community afforded by the app outweighs the risks. Arianne Ontiveros, 22, who lives in El Paso, switched to Strava from another running app because of its social emphasis.

For Ms. Ontiveros, meeting friends (or potential dates) among a community of people who share her desire to run 10 miles on a Sunday can help avoid raised eyebrows down the road. And Strava’s public commenting feature already has a reputation for connecting runners in order to do, well, more than running.

“I’ve had flirty interactions in my own Strava comments,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the direct messaging is going to look like.”

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