Fitness trackers that use GPS have been banned for all deployed US military personnel. The decision was taken as a result of concerns that fitness trackers can be used to find and compromise the user’s location. Partick M. Shanahan, Deputy Defense Secretary, wrote in a memo that was sent to all the service leaders. He said, “Effective immediately, DoD personnel are prohibited.” The memo further stated, “The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to Department of Defense (DoD) personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally.”
An important thing to note here is that the devices themselves are not banned under the order. The memo and the ban have given military leadership and commanding officers the freedom to decide if the local staff can use the GPS while on the field or not. These devices include smartwatches, tablets, standard cell phones, and common fitness trackers like Fitbit. Shanahan wrote, “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.”
Strava released their global heatmap. 13 trillion GPS points from their users (turning off data sharing is an option). https://t.co/hA6jcxfBQI … It looks very pretty, but not amazing for Op-Sec. US Bases are clearly identifiable and mappable pic.twitter.com/rBgGnOzasq
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) January 27, 2018
The policy has also given an option to the military personnel to undergo training on how to use the devices without compromising their location through GPS. This will mean that GPS and other data sharing services are turned off on each device. Nathan Ruser, a student at the Australian National University, found that the fitness app Strava revealed sensitive information about the location of many military bases. The app made the information public for more than two years.
Ruser also pointed out that the app was displaying the movements of users in US bases within Afghanistan and Syria as well as French military base in Niger. Other researchers also claimed that they were able to pinpoint data to an individual soldier and can track those movements. These claims are not only restricted to fitness apps. Many dating apps and shopping sites also use the GPS tracking to tell people where they are in a store. The US military memo will help military personnel understand the security risk which is involved with these devices.