Pentagon Restricts Use Of Fitness Trackers, Location-Tracking Apps Over Security Concerns

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Effective immediately, troops and Defense Department personnel working in certain operational areas such as war zones are prohibited from using Global Positioning System features on any government or private gear.

'These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DOD personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission, ' the memo said. But Defense Department leadership stopped short of instructing troops to leave their wearable devices at home.

Specifically, their use can be authorized after "conducting a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security (OPSEC) survey" or if the use of geolocation on government-issued devices is necessary to carry out a mission. It includes physical fitness aids, applications in phones that track locations, and other devices and apps that pinpoint and track the location of individuals.

Troops stationed overseas in places like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan would likely be restricted from using the devices or be required to turn off any location function.

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Those who violate the ban on geolocation features will be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on the severity of the infraction, Manning said.

The restrictions were issued some six months after the location and movements of US troops were included in a usage map published by the Strava fitness tracking company. Within the USA, the colorful web of lines was mostly just an interesting way of visualizing runners' data, but in Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, the map showed much more.

A portion of the Strava Labs heat map from Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, made by tracking activities.

One base cited in the article is not available on public maps such as Google and Apple maps, but its internal layout could be gleaned from looking at mapped jogging routes of soldiers there using the fitness tracking software.

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The Pentagon immediately launched a review.

This is the second memo affecting the use of cellphones and other electronic devices that the department has released in recent months.

That memo called for stricter adherence to long-held practices that require phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas where sensitive matters are discussed. That information can present enemies with information on military operations. The Pentagon also said it would be providing additional cybersecurity training to personnel as it pertains to such devices an apps.

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