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Explained: Why Joe Biden’s Peloton exercise bike may not be allowed into the White House

Cybersecurity experts have said that if Biden really wants to bring his Peloton bike to the White House, he can. But it will have to be massively stripped down by the Secret Service and National Security Agency (NSA) first.

By: Explained Desk | Vasco |
Updated: January 27, 2021 8:53:22 am
In a recent episode of his podcast ‘Here’s the Deal’, Biden spoke about his stationary bike and how he purchased it during the coronavirus pandemic to stay fit.

In the weeks leading up to US President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, cyber security experts questioned whether one of his personal belongings, a seemingly innocent piece of exercise equipment, would be permitted inside the White House. The device in question is the Peloton, a high tech stationary bike worth $2,000, which some experts say could make Biden vulnerable to hackers.

In a recent episode of his podcast ‘Here’s the Deal’, Biden spoke about his stationary bike and how he purchased it during the coronavirus pandemic to stay fit. “I try to get out of bed by eight o’clock in the morning and I have a gym in my house upstairs. I have a treadmill and a Peloton bike and some weights. And I try to work out every morning for me. That sort of gets me going,” he said.

So, what is the Peloton bike?

A Peloton is not your average piece of gym machinery. It is an internet-connected, indoor cycling bike that comes complete with cameras, microphones and 22” tablets attached, so its riders can livestream fitness classes and communicate with one another. Priced at upward of $2,500 (around INR 1.8 lakh), the bike is made of carbon steel and aluminium and weighs around 135 pounds. Users are also required to pay $39 (around INR 2,895) per month for Peloton’s live and on-demand classes.

Peloton, the company behind the bike, was founded in 2012 and launched with the help of a Kickstarter funding campaign the next year. The American company also sells treadmills and other pieces of exercise equipment. The firm grew rapidly over the next few years as it started to roll out a series of aspirational infomercials and its products became popular amongst celebrities. Apart from Biden, the Obamas and actress Kate Hudson are also fans of the bike.

Within its first five years, Peloton was able to sell 577,000 of its bikes and treadmills, the New York Times reported. Today, the company, and its exercise bike in particular, have a cult following across the United States.

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But what does the bike have to do with security?

After Joe Biden head revealed on his podcast that he was an active user of the Peloton bike and had purchased one during the lockdown to stay active, people started to wonder whether the bike was a safe option now that Biden was entering the White House. Since the Peloton tablet is connected to the internet and comes fitted with built-in cameras and microphones that allow riders to hear and see each other if they so choose, the device could potentially pose a threat to the president’s privacy and safety. To be sure, there have been no incidents of security breaches reported by customers as yet.

A debate about whether the Peloton bike will make it to the White House gymnasium was first sparked after a report by technology and science magazine, Popular Mechanics, warned that the bike could be seen by the Secret Service as a security threat. Officials fear hackers could potentially access both Biden and the White House through the bike. While it is unlikely for an incident like this to occur, security experts say that the possibility should not be ruled out.

A disclaimer on the Peloton site reads: “At Peloton, we consider the security of our systems and the best interest of our members a top priority. However, no matter how much effort we put into system security, there can still be vulnerabilities present. Because of this we are looking to the security community to help us meet this top priority through programs like responsible disclosure.”

So is there no way the Peloton bike will be permitted in the White House?

Cybersecurity experts have said that if Biden really wants to bring his Peloton bike to the White House, he can. But it will have to be massively stripped down by the Secret Service and National Security Agency (NSA) first. Once the cameras, microphone and internet capabilities are removed, the bike should be safe enough for the White House.

Were former presidents banned from using any devices?

Yes, most former presidents are not permitted to use technology — such as smartphones and even email — because it is not secure enough. Obama was famously the first president in US History to use email and also had to fight a great deal with the NSA to keep a BlackBerry. However, the phone was stripped of almost every built-in feature and had an upper limit of 10 numbers. He later even went on to use an iPad.

Even, former President Trump flouted security protocol by calling his personal friends on his iPhone.

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