US Military Bans Geolocators on Fitness Trackers, Smartphones

August 7, 2018 Last Updated: August 7, 2018

The Deputy Secretary of Defense released a memo banning electronic devices with geolocation software on August 3.

Electronic devices, such as fitness trackers, smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and any software applications with geolocation software can pose a security risk for the military by potentially revealing personal information, location, routines and numbers of the Department of Defense (DoD) personnel. This is particularly so for military personnel in high-risk hostile environments.

Effective immediately, all DoD personnel are prohibited from using any government-issued or non-governmental devices, applications, and services while being in an operational area.

Although there is a clear ban, there are also exceptions. The use of geolocation capabilities on non-governmental devices are allowed if Combatant Commanders have conducted a Operation Security (OPSEC) survey to gauge the threat to security. They can also authorize its use if it is a mission necessity and ensures all personnel under their command receives training in this matter.

The ban was implemented after it was discovered that Strava, a fitness-tracking smartphone app, had recorded the activity of U.S. soldiers and revealed routes and secret military bases. The current heat map shown on their website is a record of all the activity between the years 2015 and 2017.

 Fitbit unveils Alta HR, the world's slimmest fitness wristband with continuous heart rate, as well as two new sleep tracking features "Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights " at an event hosted by actress and dancer Julianne Hough on March 1, 2017 at SWERVE Fitness in New York. (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit)

Fitbit unveils Alta HR, the world’s slimmest fitness wristband with continuous heart rate, as well as two new sleep tracking features “Sleep Stages and Sleep Insights ” at an event hosted by actress and dancer Julianne Hough on March 1, 2017 at SWERVE Fitness in New York. (Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Fitbit)

While devices with a geolocation capability may have become a concern for the military, it wasn’t too long ago that Fitbits, which track the wearer’s activity, exercise, food, weight and sleep were issued to U.S. soldiers.

The U.S. Army implemented the “Performance Triad” program to tackle obesity in 2013, Military.com reported. Under this program, over two thousand soldiers were issued a Fitbit Flex wristband to monitor their track steps, distance, calories burned and duration of sleep.

GPS trackers are built into some of the Fitbit models. Although their movement data isn’t collated into a map for public view, by default, an individual’s profile can be found in a search engine if the settings haven’t been changed.

Even when settings are changed to be private, the companies still receive data from the device.