The Pentagon has issued guidance that prohibits Department of Defense personnel in operational areas from using location-tracking features on devices, apps or services, such as fitness tracking technology.
"The rapidly evolving market of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities presents a significant risk to the Department of Defense personnel on and off duty, and to our military operations globally", the department said in a statement on Monday.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered a review of personal electronics and fitness trackers afterward and initially left open the possibility that the use of electronics in stateside locations such as the Pentagon could be drastically curtailed. The Pentagon started looking into it shortly after Strava published a heat map showing where users were exercising, including on military bases at home and overseas.
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.
If a commander determines the risk is too great, the devices and apps themselves won't be prohibited, so long as the location-tracking features on them can be ― and are ― switched off.
The new order will allow military leaders to decide if troops can use the Global Positioning System function on their devices, based on the security threat in that area or on that base.
"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.
While the information didn't have the users' names attached to it, experts argued at the time that it's quite easy to cross-reference the maps with other social media and public information to track them.
In a public statement issued Friday, the Pentagon classified the use of geolocation technologies against United States forces as a "significant risk".
Observers noted that few local residents owned the devices and that the activity seen on the heat map allowed for the mapping of military bases and potentially even top secret sites.
Prior to announcing the new Pentagon policy, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) advised the USA soldiers to be vigilant of their smart devices revealing their locations to third parties. This has raised security concerns about personnel at USA military bases around the world. But the report stopped short of banning fitness trackers or other electronic devices outright.
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".