The Defense Department has instituted a ban on devices and applications that use geolocation for agency personnel while in locations designated as operational areas (OAs).
The announcement cites an increasing security risk presented by smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and software such as fitness trackers, all of which “potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”
The ban takes effect immediately and covers both government-issued and personal devices and software. It includes physical fitness aids, applications in phones that track locations, and other devices and apps that pinpoint and track the location of individuals.
Fox News reported that the ban also includes dating apps such as Tinder.
“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,” according to Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning III.
The new policy does give some leeway to Combatant Commanders, however, to grant use of geolocation services at their discretion. Specifically, their use can be authorized after “conducting a threat-based comprehensive Operations Security (OPSEC) survey” or if the use of geolocation on government-issued devices is necessary to carry out a mission.
Giving Away Military Locations
The DoD announcement comes after news released earlier this year said that fitness tracking app Strava was giving away potentially sensitive information about military installations.
It turns out that military personnel were using the fitness tracking app for workouts when at the installations, and it tracks their locations to log the workout and the route, recording information such as distance covered. The map routes are then uploaded to the Internet where others can see them.
“If soldiers use the app like normal people do, by turning it on tracking when they go to do exercise, it could be especially dangerous,” Nathan Ruser, an analyst with the Institute for United Conflict Analysts, told The Guardian. He highlighted one particular track on a map that “looks like it logs a regular jogging route.”
One base cited in the article is not available on public maps such as Google and Apple maps, but its internal layout could be gleaned from looking at mapped jogging routes of soldiers there using the fitness tracking software.
A copy of the DoD memo is included below.