Deployed U.S. Military Banned from Using iPhone and Apple Watch GPS

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The Pentagon last week issued a new decree barring U.S. military personnel from using GPS-based geolocation features present in devices like iPhone, Apple Watch, and other smartphones and fitness trackers while they’re deployed, citing what the Department of Defense believes is an imminent danger associated with revealing the user’s location in areas where they’re stationed.

Signed and sealed on Friday by Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, the memo demands that military personnel actively serving abroad immediately stop using any and all GPS location services on their mobile device, which could include iPhone, Android, and other smartphones, wearable devices like Apple Watch, other fitness trackers and accessories, CNN reports.

“Effectively immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government and non-government-issued devices, applications, and services while in locations designated as operational areas,” the memo states.

The order won’t forbid military personnel from using smartphones and accessories equipped with geolocation features, but requires them to make sure the functions are disabled at all times. To ensure compliance, Commanders managing deployed troops are able to authorize the use of devices after performing what’s referred to as a “threat-based comprehensive Operations Security survey,” which gives them the flexibility to enforce the ban and punish violators. 

Why Was This Order Signed?

The Pentagon’s decision apparently stems from an internal review of government policies concerning the use of geolocation-compatible devices, and follows the January 2018 revelation that the Strava fitness tracking app had accidentally revealed the location of troops who were stationed in various parts of the world.

The findings prompted Strava to update its “heat map” — thereby limiting the details of street-level routes and requiring multiple registered users to be on them prior to their blip appearing on the map at all.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning added that the decision all boils down to “making sure we’re not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we’re not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide.” 

“This is all electronic devices that have geolocating features, basically GPS enabled devices, applications, that sort of thing.” 

The GPS ban does not apply to U.S. military personnel working in more “prominent” locations like the Pentagon or other U.S. military base or Consulate.

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