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U.S. military orders soldiers to turn off GPS tracking devices

U.S. troops deployed overseas will have to remember to turn off the GPS tracking services on their favorite wearable fitness device. It’s an order.

The U.S. Department of Defense has issued an order for any troops in warzones or stationed in overseas military bases to immediately disable all GPS tracking devices. This includes phones, smartwatches, fitness wearables, and any sort of device with a geolocation service. 

The order comes as a result of a recent Pentagon review of GPS tracking devices and fitness apps which found that those apps had revealed the movements of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Syria.

“These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DOD personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission,” the Pentagon order said.

Earlier this year, Strava, the fitness tracking platform used by wearable devices such as Fitbit, released a global heat map featuring a record of all activity tracked through the service. Patterns, routines, locations, and more were all logged and saved on the global heat map. This included activity recorded on U.S. military bases. 

It was later discovered that Strava wasn’t the only fitness tracking service giving away the location and activity of overseas U.S. soldiers. Researchers discovered that the fitness app Polar Flow was revealing similar details about its users.

The Defense Department order does not ban devices, wearables, and fitness trackers; it just requires the geolocation services be turned off. The memo also allows military commanders to decide when they’re allowed to be used.

With geo tracking features now included in nearly every device, it’s an obvious order to protect the safety overseas troops. But based on the sheer number of these devices (see: every smartphone), it may prove a tall order to enforce.

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