US Military Bans Fitness Trackers, Citing Spy Risk

John Lister's picture

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has banned military staff from using geolocation tools such as GPS-enabled fitness trackers in "operational areas." The move follows fears such data could be unintentionally public and threaten security.

Earlier this year fitness tracker company Strava published a worldwide map showing the most popular routes for its users to run and carry out other exercise activity. The map showed routes in increasing levels of brightness depending on their popularity.

Middle East Bases Unintentionally Mapped

Several users then spotted several routes in countries such as Afghanistan and Syria. Given those aren't exactly leading markets for Strava, it wasn't hard to figure out the locations in questions were US military bases. While some of the routes were likely soldiers running recreationally, others appeared to have been heavily used because they were where soldiers were patrolling a base.

The maps presented a couple of possible security risks. One was that even where it was known that a particular location was a military base, the routes could reveal details about the arrangements of buildings inside the base. Another was that enemies could spot popular routes around the base where soldiers would run.

Pentagon Has Own Phone Rules

The DoD launched a review which has now led to the ban on geolocation tools. The ban is specifically worded to cover geolocation features rather than name specific devices, meaning it won't become outdated. Local commanders will have the authority to decide what devices can and can't be used. (Source:

The Pentagon will be excluded from the ban, despite technically being an operation area. However, the facility already has tech security rules that mean staff must put phones in a special storage unit outside the main Pentagon building whenever discussing classified or sensitive issues. That's designed to combat the risks of phones being remotely hijacked to use the microphone or camera to record and relay sound and video. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is the military right to issue the ban? Should the DoD have the power to force geolocation companies to disable tracking in specific regions? Should the military ban personal mobile devices and app installations completely for staff on deployment?

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Dennis Faas's picture

This should not come as a surprise when it comes to the Internet of Things, intelligence, and espionage. Any device that has a CPU and connects to the Internet has the potential to be hacked or exploited in order to track or spy on you. The same thing can be said about the Amazon Echo and Google Home, or even a smartphone or tablet. They all come equipped with a microphone and smartphones and tablets have cameras. While these devices are incredibly convenient, there is a trade off when it comes to privacy and the potential for these devices to turn rogue due to exploits or remote hacking.