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Pentagon bars troops from using fitness trackers & geolocation services

08 August 2018

Officials say the apps revealed when military personnel were on duty, where they lived and, in some cases, information about those were deployed overseas in Iraq, Syria and Djibouti, among other locations.

"Effective immediately, DoD personnel are prohibited" from using geolocation apps and features, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan wrote in a memo sent Monday to all service leaders.

The devices themselves will not be banned.

Many popular devices and applications, including smartphones, smart watches, fitness and dating apps use geolocation and some applications could potentially not work with the geolocation features turned off.

The Defense Department has instituted a ban on devices and applications that use geolocation for agency personnel while in locations designated as operational areas (OAs).

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.

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. Otherwise, the Pentagon warned, using gadgets can potentially create "unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission", states the 'DoD Policy on the Use of Geolocation-Capable Devices, Applications, and Services in Deployed Areas'.

This was all sparked when reports surfaced earlier this year of a fitness-tracking company, Strava, publishing maps showing where users jog, bike and exercise. Within the U.S., 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.

"It goes back to making sure we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide", Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said on Monday, according to CNN.

The Department of Defense has banned the use of any smartphone and applications that use geolocation services in operational areas.

The Pentagon also said it will provide additional cybersecurity training to include the risks posed by the trackers and other mobile devices.

Pentagon bars troops from using fitness trackers & geolocation services