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Pentagon restricts fitness trackers, after apps revealed secret bases

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Military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or certain high-risk warzone areas won't be allowed to use fitness tracker or cellphone applications that can reveal their location according to a new Pentagon order

Otherwise, the Pentagon warned, using gadgets can potentially create "unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission", states the 'DoD Policy on the Use of Geolocation-Capable Devices, Applications, and Services in Deployed Areas'.

"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 an August 3 memo from Patrick Shanahan, the deputy secretary of defense.

The restriction likely won't affect troops and personnel at major military bases in the USA or the Pentagon itself; but those in more sensitive locations like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will probably be impacted. The map showed bright spots of activity in places such as Syria and Somalia, where there were otherwise few users of fitness trackers.

Warzones such as Iraq and Syria showed scattered pockets of activity that denoted U.S. military or government personnel using the service.

There was little clarity Monday on how the new policy banning USA troops from using geolocation will be enforced. The global map reflected more than 1 billion paths that the Strava app tracked - but patterns and locations of US service members could be gleaned from zooming in on sensitive or secured areas. But the report stopped short of banning fitness trackers or other electronic devices outright.

In all other locations, including the Pentagon, troops and defense personnel will be able to use the GPS-enabled devices if leaders decides it doesn't pose a risk.

Concerns about exercise trackers emerged in January after the company Strava published The Global Heat Map, using satellite information to map the locations of subscribers to its fitness service.

It also highlights the larger debate over the military's use of technology and its handling of cybersecurity.

Notably, the policy's language allows service members to continue tracking their workouts on a device like a Fitbit, as long as the geolocation feature is turned off.

"We don't want to give the enemy any unfair advantage", Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.

"It's a necessary evolution", he added.

Manning said the department will continue to study the risk associated with these devices and change the policy as needed.

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