Pentagon clamps down on fitness trackers, apps using Global Positioning System

Military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or certain high-risk warzone areas won't be allowed to use fitness tracker or cellphone applications that can reveal their location according to a new Pentagon order

Military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or certain high-risk warzone areas won't be allowed to use fitness tracker or cellphone applications that can reveal their location according to a new Pentagon order

The memo does say that Combatant Commanders, who oversee United States troops around the world, could authorize the use of the devices, but only after conducting "a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security survey".

According to the Associated Press, commanders have been tasked with determining whether Global Positioning System functionality should be allowed at their location based on the potential security risks that such use could pose.

The Aug. 3 memo, first reported by The Associated Press, does not completely ban the fitness trackers or other electronic devices, but orders that they must be turned off in certain operational areas "effective immediately".

Military leaders will be able to conduct risk assessments to determine whether troops under their command can use the devices in the area or on the base they are located.

"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities. presents significant risk to Department of Defense personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally", the Pentagon said in its Friday memo.

For example, troops exercising at major military bases around the country, such at Fort Hood in Texas or Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, would likely be able to use the location software on their phones or fitness devices.

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The restriction likely won't affect troops and personnel at major military bases in the US or the Pentagon itself; but those in more sensitive locations like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will probably be impacted.

The change comes more than seven months after an worldwide security student, Nathan Ruser, reviewed information released by the GPS tracking company Strava and discovered that a "global heat map" it provided could be used to map the locations of US troops and other security forces overseas.

Strava posted heat maps showing movements of people exercising while wearing fitness tracker devices and publicly sharing the time and location of their workouts via the app. The map showed bright spots of activity in places such as Syria and Somalia, where there were otherwise few users of fitness trackers.

The Pentagon in May tightened some of its policies on the use of mobile phones in the building after a months-long review on the issue.

Annual Cybersecurity Awareness training will also be updated to assist DoD personnel in "identifying and understanding risks posed by geolocation capabilities embedded in devices and applications". "Unlike a smartphone, location data is not collected by Fitbit unless a user gives us access to the data, and users can always remove our access".

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