Pentagon Restricts Use Of Fitness Trackers, Location-Tracking Apps Over Security Concerns

Troops deployed to sensitive areas are now prohibited from using the GPS feature on their devices and apps.

Military troops and Defense Department personnel deployed to sensitive areas such as war zones will no longer be able to use fitness trackers and cellphone applications that pinpoint their location.

The Pentagon announced in a Friday memorandum that it would be banning the use of GPS features on all devices and applications at locations “designated as operational areas.”

According to the Associated Press, commanders have been tasked with determining whether GPS functionality should be allowed at their location based on the potential security risks that such use could pose.

If a commander determines the risk is too great, the devices and apps themselves won’t be prohibited, so long as the location-tracking features on them can be ― and are ― switched off. As CNN noted, the rule would apply to a wide range of products and apps including fitness trackers, smartphones and potentially even dating apps.

The restriction likely won’t affect troops and personnel at major military bases in the U.S. or the Pentagon itself; but those in more sensitive locations like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will probably be impacted.  

“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.

“This is all electronic devices that have geolocating features, basically GPS enabled devices, applications, that type of thing,” he added. 

The Pentagon’s new order has been many months in the making. 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 U.S. military bases in sensitive locations around the world. The map prompted fears among security experts that people could use such data to plan attacks on U.S. troops.

“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities ... presents significant risk to Department of Defense personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” the Pentagon said in its Friday memo

“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,” it added.