Pentagon bans geolocation services on iPhones, Apple Watch used by military personnel

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U.S. military personnel are banned from using geolocation features in iPhones, the Apple Watch, and other smartphones and fitness trackers while deployed, as the Pentagon believes they could endanger lives by revealing the user's location in areas where they are operating.




Issued Friday and signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, the memo demands that those serving in the U.S. military cease the use of location-based services on mobile devices, wearable devices, and accessories, reports CNN. This can range from fitness tracking or dating apps on iPhones to a smartwatch tracking a runner's route.

"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," states the policy memo.

The decision stems from a Pentagon review of policies concerning such devices, following the revelation in January that the Strava fitness tracking app had accidentally revealed where troops were located in the world. The app's heat maps were found to help show where people were working out in war zones, indicting a strong likelihood military personnel were operating in the region.

Strava has since updated the heat map to limit street-level details of routes to registered users, and with trails requiring multiple users before appearing on the map at all.

"It goes back to making sure we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide," Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning advised. "This is all electronic devices that have geolocating features, basically GPS enabled devices, applications, that sort of thing."

The ban will not forbid the use of smartphones and accessories, but does require personnel to make sure the relevant functions are disabled. Combatant Commanders who manage deployed troops are able to authorize the use of the devices after performing a "threat-based comprehensive Operations Security survey," and would be afforded some flexibility in enforcing the ban and punishing violators.

The move is not surprising. It is a variant of emissions control, where a unit not wanting to be detected may turn off radars or anything else that transmits, or a submarine uses passive sonar rather than active. Of course, a radar on the battlefield presents more immediate data to a foe looking for a location than delving through a site's GPS data -- or social media latitude and longitude info on a photo.

Personnel working in more prominent -- and visible -- locations, such as the Pentagon, are not affected by the ban.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    I used to play Call of Duty on Xbox and the multiplayer had a feature where it would show lights indicating the locations all the players in the world on a globe. The U.S. of course was lit like a Christmas tree, but in Asia and Africa it was completely dark except for a few notable specks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc. which were obviously U.S. troops playing in their off-duty time.
  • Reply 2 of 10
    FolioFolio Posts: 339member
    QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It goes back to making sure we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide," Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning advised. HMMM...."an unfair advantage?" I thought all was fair in love and war. Is the Pentagon implying its ok to give the enemy a fair advantage?
  • Reply 3 of 10
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,463member
    Easy solution ...  Airplane Mode / Warrior Mode ;)
    lovemn
  • Reply 4 of 10
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,463member
    Folio said:
    QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It goes back to making sure we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide," Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning advised. HMMM...."an unfair advantage?" I thought all was fair in love and war. Is the Pentagon implying its ok to give the enemy a fair advantage?
    ROFL
  • Reply 5 of 10
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,888member
    This is an obvious setting for government personnel using government managed mobile devices. It should be included in their MDM settings. As for personal use, I didn't think military personnel actually had a personal life, they were 24/7 under the control of the military so even their "personal" mobile devices should be under the control of DoD MDM servers. This could also go for certain corporate employees with sensitive jobs. It all comes down to whether someone wants to protect not only their private information but, more importantly, where they are at any given time. 
  • Reply 6 of 10
    Folio said:
    QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It goes back to making sure we're not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we're not showcasing the exact location of our troops worldwide," Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning advised. HMMM...."an unfair advantage?" I thought all was fair in love and war. Is the Pentagon implying its ok to give the enemy a fair advantage?
    Right.  He should have said something like "unnecessary advantage" or "unintended advantage."  They aren't playing esports, after all.
  • Reply 7 of 10
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,493member
    This absolutely makes sense and reflects military personnel having to adapt their behaviors to work effectively with the technology of the day. Back when I was in the Navy we were lucky to get one letter in the mail once a week and a phone call back to the states once a month. Even with those primitive forms of communication there were still prohibitions on disclosing any information regarding ship movements, port visits, activities, etc. At the ship level there were times when radio, radar, sonar, IFF transponders, location beacons, etc., and other forms of emissions were silenced. Today every person carrying a smart device is connected nearly all of the time and every person with a connected device is essentially a location beacon. This doesn't mean these new capabilities need to be prohibited, they do serve a very important purpose for communication and morale, they just need to be controlled and managed in a disciplined manner just like everything else that is expected of individual soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
  • Reply 8 of 10
    "The app's heat maps were found to help show where people were working out in war zones, indicting a strong likelihood military personnel were operating in the region."

    Yeah the heat map gave them away, not the huge uptick in enemy casualties in the area. 
    franklinjackcon
  • Reply 9 of 10
    That’s quite strange, doesn’t a vpn ghost your location? 
  • Reply 10 of 10
    macguimacgui Posts: 797member
    randominternetperson said:
    He should have said something like "unnecessary advantage" or "unintended advantage."  They aren't playing esports, after all.
    No, he should have said 'tactical advantage'.
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