Defense Department bans geolocation features on tech devices due to security risk

  • Defense Department bans geolocation features on tech devices due to security risk

Defense Department bans geolocation features on tech devices due to security risk

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.

"Therefore, effective immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government- and non-government-issued devices, applications, and services while in locations designated as operational areas", according to the memo.

This was all sparked when reports surfaced earlier this year of a fitness-tracking company, Strava, publishing maps showing where users jog, bike and exercise.

Commanders will still have the discretion to authorise the use of Global Positioning System devices and apps based on mission requirements and risks to operational security.

Concerns about exercise trackers and other electronic devices came to a head in January in the wake of revelations that an interactive, online map was pinpointing troop locations, bases and other sensitive areas around the world.

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

"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents significant risk to Department of Defense (DoD) personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally", the memo states".

Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said potential penalties will be determined on a case-by-case basis by commanders in the field. Within the U.S., the colorful web of lines was mostly just an interesting way of visualizing runners' data, but in Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, the map showed much more.

Outlines of USA outposts in Syria and Iraq could be seen in the maps because many US military personnel used fitness tracking devices, while few local people own them, according to media reports. Officials say that information can present enemies with information on military operations.

Heather Pierce, a spokeswoman for Fitbit, said Monday: "Fitbit is committed to protecting consumer privacy and keeping data safe".