Pentagon puts restrictions on fitness trackers

08 August, 2018, 19:00 | Author: Lillian Steele
  • GPS tracking company Strava in November 2017 shows where the users of fitness devices are around the world including Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan as shown in this screenshot

The Pentagon is banning the use of Global Positioning System on mobile devices in war zones and other sensitive locations, saying that fitness trackers and smartphone apps pose a "significant risk" to USA military personnel.

"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". But Defense Department leadership stopped short of instructing troops to leave their wearable devices at home.

Since many of its users are members of the military, their jogging routes and other exercises showed exactly where the United States has service members around the world, as well as showing their running routes.

Operational areas mostly consist of sensitive overseas locations where USA personnel are deployed.

This includes physical fitness aids, applications in phones that track locations, and other devices and apps that pinpoint and track the location of individuals.

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

The Defense Department will also provide training on the risks that fitness trackers bring.

The Pentagon discovered a fitness tracking app may have accidentally revealed security force locations around the world.

Strava released an interactive map in November 2017 that showed where the users of fitness devices are around the world
StravaGPS tracking company Strava released an interactive map in November 2017 that showed where the users of fitness devices are around the world

Pentagon spokesperson Col. Rob Manning told reporters on Monday that the new policy ensures "we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage", while at the same time "keeping pace with technology".

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

The ban takes effect immediately, it said.

At the time of the heat map's release, Australian National University student Nathan Ruser, posted findings on Twitter in which he noted Strava user activities that could be related to USA military personal at forward operating bases in Afghanistan, Turkish military patrols in Syria, and a possible guard patrol in the Russian operating area of Syria, Wired reported.

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

In other words, commanders may decide to restrict the use of geolocation capabilities on devices on areas of installations where "sensitive activities" are conducted, Harris said.

Military commanders will be able to make a judgment call on when troops can power up their smart devices, depending on the status of their operation.

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