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Pentagon restricts fitness trackers and other geolocators in high-risk areas

Security threats from wearables with geolocation features led the Pentagon to restrict the use of fitness trackers and other devices, according to The Associated Press.

Citing a Pentagon memo, the AP reported military leaders would make the call on mobile device use. When command staff determines the security threat level from wearables’ GPS use is too high, personnel will be banned from activating geolocation features or from using the devices at all.

Many fitness trackers and other mobile devices with geolocation functions can reveal current locations and routes to social media. Unrestricted use of devices with location features is a significant concern when personnel are in war zones or sensitive areas.

“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,” the memo said according to the AP.

The Pentagon began investigating fitness devices that reveal global user locations earlier this year. Fitness-focused social networking company Strava published The Global Heat Map using subscriber data to show where people worked out. Pentagon personnel were not pleased when it was discovered that military base locations and troop movements were inadvertently revealed.

The security threat presented by The Global Heat Map prompted predictions that use of GPS-equipped fitness devices would be restricted. The penny dropped with the recent Pentagon memo.

“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,” Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Rob Manning told The AP.

In May, the military instituted new regulations for cell phone use at the Pentagon itself, according to the AP. Cell phones are not allowed in areas where sensitive topics are discussed but must be left in storage containers outside secure areas.

Rules limiting cell phones in secure locations inside the Pentagon were previously in place, but the May memo tightened and added to those restrictions. Now Pentagon personnel will need to leave their fitness trackers, smartwatches, and any other devices with geolocation functions in the storage containers.

Cell phones and fitness trackers are not banned entirely from the Pentagon and other military locations, but the new regulations underscore concerns about revealing location information.

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