Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other devices

Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other devices

The department said in January that it was reviewing its policies regarding location-tracking devices and apps after the fitness tracking app Strava published an interactive map online that accidentally revealed the locations of USA military bases in sensitive locations around the world.

US military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or certain high-risk war zone areas won't be allowed to use features on fitness trackers or cellphone applications that can reveal their location, according to a new Pentagon order.

The Pentagon said in January it was reviewing policies regarding such devices after it was revealed that Strava, a fitness tracking app that maps people's exercise habits, may have inadvertently revealed the locations of security forces around the world.

In Iraq and Syria, viewers could easily spot beacons of activity in remote places where military bases are located, presumably indicating favorite jogging or walking routes.

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

The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked - but patterns and locations of US service members could be gleaned from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.

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

Instead, the memorandum instructs that the devices' geospatial tracking capabilities must be turned off in sensitive or unsafe operating areas where the exposure of location data could cause a "significant risk" to members of the military.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday. At the time, the map showed activity from 2015 through September 2017. The decision came after concerns were raised about exercise trackers and other electronic devices.

Strava apparently intended no harm but, you can guess how uneasy this made service members and senior Pentagon officials. This includes smartphones, smart watches and other devices with Global Positioning System capabilities.