Published: Tue, August 07, 2018
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Pentagon bans smartphones, apps that use geolocation services

Pentagon bans smartphones, apps that use geolocation services

The Pentagon on Monday prohibited deployed forces from using Global Positioning System features in fitness apps and other devices after the data could have exposed sensitive details about bases and troops, the Washington Examiner reported Monday.

"Effective immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government and nongovernment-issued devices, applications and services while in locations designated as operational areas", Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning III told reporters.

The change comes more than seven months after an worldwide security student, Nathan Ruser, reviewed information released by the GPS tracking company Strava and discovered that a "global heat map" it provided could be used to map the locations of USA troops and other security forces overseas.

In Iraq and Syria, viewers could easily spot beacons of activity in remote places where military bases are located, presumably indicating favorite jogging or walking routes.

The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked - but patterns and locations of USA service members could be gleaned from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas.


Eight months after a researcher discovered that the "heatmap" feature of the Strava fitness tracking community was revealing the location of USA military facilities in Syria and other conflict zones as well as some troop movements, the Department of Defense has instructed troops headed to potentially hostile territory to turn off the Global Positioning System features of their fitness tracking gadgets and mobile applications.

Journalists quickly started using the Global Heatmap to identify what they believed to be the locations of other USA personnel, including a suspected Central Intelligence Agency base near Mogadishu, Somalia, and US troops operating in the Sahel region of Africa. Within the United States, 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.

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

Strava apparently intended no harm but, you can guess how uneasy this made service members and senior Pentagon officials.

That memo called for stricter adherence to long-held practices that require phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas where sensitive matters are discussed. "Unlike a smartphone, location data is not collected by Fitbit unless a user gives us access to the data, and users can always remove our access".

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