Pentagon restricts fitness trackers, mobile devices using GPS functions citing 'significant risk' to deployed forces

Military service members and other defense personnel are now forbidden from using any fitness trackers or cellphone apps which use GPS-tracking software because of huge safety concerns for troops deployed at sensitive bases or certain high-risk warzone areas around the world, according to a new Pentagon order announced Monday.

The order stops short of completely banning the fitness trackers or other electronic devices, which are often linked to apps or smart watches and can provide the users’ GPS and exercise details to social media. It says the applications on personal or government-issued devices present a “significant risk” to military personnel so those capabilities must be turned off in certain operational areas.

Fox News is told the ban applies to dating apps, as well, such as Tinder.

Maj. Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokesperson, in a statement to Fox News, said: “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. These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of department personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

Under the new order, military leaders will be able to determine whether troops under their command can use the GPS function on their devices, based on the security threat in that area or on that base.

“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 order said.

Defense personnel who aren’t in sensitive areas will be able to use the GPS applications, if the commanders conclude it doesn’t present a risk.

For example, troops exercising at major military posts across the country, such at Fort Hood in Texas or Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, likely would be able to use the location software on their phones or fitness devices. Troops on missions in more sensitive locations, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or parts of Africa, meanwhile, would be restricted from using the devices or be required to turn off any location functions.

Concerns about exercise trackers and other electronic devices came to a head in January in the wake of revelations that an interactive online map was pinpointing troop locations, bases and other sensitive areas around the world.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, used satellite information to map the locations of subscribers to Strava’s fitness service. At the time, the map showed activity from 2015 through September 2017. While heavily populated areas were well lit, war zones such as Iraq and Syria showed scattered pockets of activity that could have denoted military or government personnel using fitness trackers as they moved around.

The Pentagon quickly launched a review, noting that the electronic signals potentially could have disclosed the location of troops in secret or classified locations or on small forward-operating bases in hostile areas.

This is the second memo affecting the use of cellphones and other electronic devices that the department has released in recent months. In May, defense officials laid out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon.

That order called for stricter adherence to long-held practices requiring that phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas where sensitive matters are discussed. But it also stopped short of banning the devices, and instead made clear that cellphones still could be used in common areas and other offices in the Pentagon if classified information is not present.

The latest order says the new restrictions include GPS functions on fitness trackers, phones, tablets, smart watches and other applications.

The Pentagon also said it would provide additional cybersecurity training to include the risks posed by the trackers and other mobile devices.

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.