DoD looking into fitness trackers, Soldier safety

A group of Army Reserve Soldiers from the 387th Military Police Battalion run past a group of command sergeants major from across the 200th Military Police Command participating in a team-building ruck march during a “CSM Huddle” in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2017. DoD is evaluating further guidance for the use of fitness trackers used in Soldiers’ physical fitness activities after reports of “heat maps” that can track Soldiers’ locations using data from the trackers. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret, 200th Military Police Command)

By Jim Garamone, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

Defense Department officials are studying security issues raised by physical conditioning trackers that also can be used to track service members’ whereabouts, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters Monday.

The concern comes from a “heat map” posted by Strava, the makers of a fitness tracking application that shows the routes that service members run or cycle in their daily exercises.

These maps can show military bases and may be used to target individuals.

“We take these matters seriously, and we are reviewing the situation to determine if any additional training or guidance is required, and if any additional policy must be developed to ensure the continued safety of DoD personnel at home and abroad,” Col. Robert Manning III said during a morning news conference at the Pentagon.

Wearable electronic fitness trackers upload data to Strava, which then publishes a heat map of the activity so people can download the maps to find good running or cycling routes.

“The rapid development of technology requires the rapid refinement of policy and procedures to enhance force protection and operational security,” Manning said. “DoD personnel are advised to place strict privacy settings on wireless technologies and applications.”

Service members are prohibited from wearing such wireless technologies in some areas and during some operations, Manning said.

Manning didn’t say what the department will do about the issue at this time.

“We have confidence in commanders to employ tactics, techniques and procedures that enhance force protection and operational security with the least impact to individuals,” the colonel said.

All DoD personnel go through annual training on information security. The training urges service members and DoD civilians to limit profiles on the internet, including personal social media accounts, Manning said.

“Furthermore, operational security requirements provide further guidance for military personnel supporting operations around the world,” he said.

The heat map incident re-emphasizes the need for service members to be cautious about what data to share via wearable electronic devices, Manning said.

Soldiers and civilians who are interested in learning about more ways to protect their online presence can check out the U.S. Army’s Social Media Handbook and guidelines at https://www.army.mil/socialmedia/soldiers/.

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