The U.S. Department of Defense has issued an order preventing soldiers from using wearable devices, following a discovery in January that soldiers’ confidential locations were revealed by a fitness heat map.
The new restriction means that military personnel in “operational areas” such as warzones or overseas US bases cannot use wearable trackers or smartphone apps, government issued or otherwise, that can identify their location, reports MobiHealthNews.
GPS tracking, which is present on most phones and smartwatches, enables fitness tracking and even dating apps.
“The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities (e.g., fitness trackers, smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, and related software applications) presents significant risk to the Department of Defense (DoD personnel both on and off duty, and to our military operations globally,” the order issued by US Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan read. “These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and number of DoD personnel, and potential create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”
The Pentagon is also planning to provide personnel with training and more guidelines about the trackers. According to the order, in the future the military will be looking into a “tiered structure” to look at how and when they should be restricted.
The move comes 8 months after a researcher discovered that the “heatmap” feature of the Strava fitness tracking app was revealing the location of US military facilities in Syria and other conflict zones as well as some troop movements. At the time it was reported by WIRED UK that Strava’s API allows anyone to deanonymize user-share data to reveal a recorded user’s name, speed and even heart rate.
At the time Strava CEO James Quarles, wrote in a blog post, stressing that users have always had the option to disable the heat map feature, but noted that the company is “committed to working with military and government officials to address potentially sensitive data” and will be pursuing efforts to increase user awareness of privacy and safety tools.
A spokeswoman for Fitbit, which makes wearable fitness trackers, told the Associated Press that the company is “committed to protecting consumer privacy and keeping data safe.”
“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,” the spokesman added.
This is the second order released in recent months by the Pentagon that affects electronic devices.
In May, the DoD issued new guidelines for the use of phones inside its Virginia headquarters.