GPS Devices Banned for Troops on Deployment
Contributed by Debbie Gregory
Deployed service members will no longer be allowed to use fitness tracking apps or other wearable technology such as Fitbits and iWatches that rely on geolocation, according to a new Pentagon policy.
“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense (DoD) personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” according to an August 3rd memo written by the Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.
The discovery that geolocation capabilities can expose locations of bases and important facilities based on where the geo-tracking stops prompted the policy change. Data firm Strava’s January release of a heat map revealed the locations and pathways of military installations around the globe due to user data on fitness apps such as Polar Flow. The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked, but patterns and locations of U.S. service members could be garnered from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.
The new policy does not require a total ban and only affects service members at operational bases or locations. Personnel working at the Pentagon will still be allowed to use the devices. Additionally, it doesn’t prohibit service members from having the devices with them when they deploy, as long as the geolocation services are disabled. With that said, each on-site commander will have final say as to what gadgets they will allow.
“These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DoD personnel,” Shanahan wrote, “and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”
In some cases, the geolocation services will be allowed to be turned on after a security review, according to the new policy.