Pentagon Forbids Use of GPS Features in Fitness Apps

Faith Castro
August 8, 2018

The Department of Defense is prohibiting personnel from using geolocation features on their devices while serving in certain locations after concerns that the information transmitted from such devices was jeopardizing the security of American forces around the world, including those deployed in classified or sensitive areas.

United States troops and defence personnel at military bases in warzones won't be allowed to use fitness-tracker apps, according to a new Pentagon order, after location data allowed users to infer the location of secret bases.

"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".

Combatant commanders may authorize the use of geolocation capabilities on non-government devices, applications, and services in operational areas after conducting a "threat-based comprehensive Operations Security (OPSEC) survey", according to the memo.

After taking their time, higher-ups at the Pentagon decided that the Global Positioning System functionality on mobile devices is a security risk and information from them can be used by enemies of the United States, even if app developers don't voluntarily share it with the world.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.

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The new policy says the ban applies to all personnel in "operational areas", which Manning said "absolutely" includes troops deployed overseas.

At the time, the map showed activity from 2015 through September 2017.

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 U.S. 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.

The decision follows the discovery of a second fitness smartphone app, called Polar Flow, that allows users to share information about their running routes and related to their location - which can compromise safety and missions if users are located on military bases, intelligence agencies or other sensitive locations.

The Pentagon immediately launched a review. In May, defence officials laid out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon. Military operatives are still allowed to use their devices but must disable geolocation services, or face punishment.

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