US Army orders soldiers to turn off GPS tracking devices

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US troops deployed overseas will need to remember to disable GPS tracking services on their favorite wearable fitness device. It’s an order.

The US Department of Defense has ordered all troops in war zones or stationed at overseas military bases to immediately disable all GPS tracking devices. This includes phones, smartwatches, wearable fitness devices, and any type of device with a geolocation service.

The order follows a recent Pentagon review of GPS tracking devices and fitness apps that found the apps revealed US troop movements in Afghanistan and Syria.

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“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,” said the order of the Pentagon.

Earlier this year, Strava, the fitness tracking platform used by wearable devices such as Fitbit, released a global heatmap containing a record of all activity tracked through the service. Patterns, routines, locations, etc. were all recorded and saved to the global heatmap. This included activity recorded on US military bases.

It was later discovered that Strava was not the only fitness tracking service to reveal the location and activity of US soldiers overseas. Researchers found that the Polar Flow fitness app revealed similar details about its users.

The Department of Defense order does not ban devices, wearables and fitness trackers; just disable geolocation services. The memo also allows military commanders to decide when they are authorized for use.

With geolocation features now included in almost every device, it’s obvious that protecting the safety of troops overseas is imperative. But based on the sheer number of these devices (see: every smartphone), this can be a tall order to enforce.

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