Pentagon bans smartphones, apps that use geolocation services

Pearl Mccarthy
August 8, 2018

It turns out that military personnel were using the fitness tracking app for workouts when at the installations, and it tracks their locations to log the workout and the route, recording information such as distance covered.

Troops in deployed locations are immediately prohibited from using the geolocation features in private and government devices unless a military combatant commander authorizes it, the Pentagon memo said, the Examiner reported.

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. The Pentagon started looking into it shortly after Strava published a heat map showing where users were exercising, including on military bases at home and overseas.

"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally", according to Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning III.

Department of Defense leaders first were alerted to the potential issue in January after it was found that users of the app Strava, which tracks routes for running and riding bicycles, are tracked on publicly accessible maps as part of a social networking feature.

Operational areas mostly consist of sensitive overseas locations where US personnel are deployed.

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'It goes back to making sure that we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact locations of our troops worldwide, ' Manning said.

A portion of the Strava Labs heat map from Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, made by tracking activities. As CNN noted, the rule would apply to a wide range of products and apps including fitness trackers, smartphones and potentially even dating apps.

This is the second memo affecting the use of electronic devices that the department has released in recent months.

Operational areas are places where "military personnel are there for a very specific objective or mission" such as Operation Inherent Resolve or Operation Freedom's Sentinel, according to Maj.

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

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