Pentagon restricts use of geolocation software for troops

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"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", said Manning.

The Pentagon is clamping down on troops' use of fitness trackers and phone apps that allow a user's location to be tracked, officials said Monday (Aug 6), after it emerged that sensitive data was ending up online.

The restrictions were issued some six months after the location and movements of USA troops were included in a usage map published by the Strava fitness tracking company.

The prohibition of such tracking services, which range from smartphone and tablet applications to wearable fitness trackers, is created to protect information about where American servicemembers are operating, said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman.

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While the ban will affect the USA overseas operations, the personnel working at the Pentagon will still be allowed to use the devices.

The Pentagon made public a memo issued on Friday which said the geolocation capabilities presented a "significant risk".

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday. Within the USA, 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. However, the rule may also apply to military installations in the USA if the commander deems it necessary for base security. But it seems the heatmap was inadvertently mapping places that should have been kept secret.

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

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The new policy, which is effective immediately, follows reports from earlier this year that some wearable electronic devices, like the popular Fitbit, can convey users' Global Positioning System coordinates in the form of publicly available online maps that display the most frequently trafficked routes of users who allowed their location to be shared.

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.

Applicable devices include fitness trackers, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and related software applications, according to a copy of the policy memo sent from Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to top DoD leadership last week.

Annual Cybersecurity Awareness training will also be updated to assist DoD personnel in "identifying and understanding risks posed by geolocation capabilities embedded in devices and applications".

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