All deployed U.S. troops are banned from using geolocation features of wearables, smartphones, and other types of electronics via apps or different tools as of last Friday, CNN reports, citing an internal memo authored by the Pentagon. The ban that was signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan seeks to address potential security issues that could stem from the use of geolocators integrated into everything from fitness trackers to dating apps, with the move coming over half a year after digital health company Strava had a major privacy blunder, publishing a global heat map of its users that disclosed locations of key military installations in conflict zones around the world.
The U.S. Department of Defense said it was reviewing wearable usage policy following the emergence of the incident in January, and while Strava wasn't specifically mentioned as part of the ban, the Pentagon clearly cast shade over the service in question, with a government representative explicitly stating the prohibition is meant to ensure the troops aren't accidentally "giving the enemy an unfair advantage" by broadcasting their location. The ban only applies to the geolocating capabilities of various gadgets and no specific device has been outright forbidden for use by the deployed military personnel. Instead, U.S. troops will be responsible for ensuring all of their electronics have their GPS functionalities and other features that could broadcast their approximate location disabled.
Besides overseas troops, the ban also affects those in other "operational areas," though the actual enforcement and degree of punishment for potential violators are largely being left to the discretion of competent commanders who are even able to overrule the decision following a threat assessment. Almost a year ago to the day, the U.S. Army and Navy opted to stop using drones from Chinese manufacturer DJI due to a number of operational risks associated with that equipment. Between those bans and a list of "do not buy" software that Pentagon is currently preparing for its agencies in order to minimize the chances of acquiring technologies compromised by foreign powers, the U.S. government is likely to continue increasing its focus on cybersecurity.