Pentagon restricts use of location-logging fitness trackers

Ben Davidson
August 9, 2018

Military personnel will still be able to use them at their commander's discretion.

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.

And as mobile devices and other location-enabled technology become more and more essential in life outside of the Pentagon and off of military installations, it will be interesting to see how this policy affects both individual DOD personnel and service members as well as the larger institution as it works to keep pace with the commercial world.

A closeup of Baghdad includes a hot spot where the Camp Liberty base, shuttered in 2016, was located.

The prohibition of such tracking services, which range from smartphone and tablet applications to wearable fitness trackers, is created to protect information about where American servicemembers are operating, said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.

While the information didn't have the users' names attached to it, experts argued at the time that it's quite easy to cross-reference the maps with other social media and public information to track them.

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The Pentagon announced Monday that USA military personnel are no longer allowed to use "geolocation capabilities" on personal or government devices, such as iPhones and fitness-tracking devices, during operational deployments and at the discretion of commanders any other time. But it seems the heatmap was inadvertently mapping places that should have been kept secret. Because Strava's userbase there was nearly entirely made up of military personnel, U.S. bases were shining like a beacon, including the ones that are removed from services like Google Maps.

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.

The Pentagon says Global Positioning System devices could potentially give away the location and personal information of US troops, putting the lives of men and women on the ground in extreme danger.

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.

The Pentagon has now made it official. The Pentagon's response also comes after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress calling for "enhanced assessments and guidance ... to address security risks in DoD" posed by internet of things devices.

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