People love their fitness tracking devices. I would know, I’m one of them. Many military personnel are included in that category, as well.
It’s no secret that the U.S. military has been issuing Fitbits – an exercise tracking device – to its soldiers for quite some time. They were given to encourage members of the military to exercise while in service.
But after a map was recently published showing the whereabouts of Fitbit users, the U.S. military is scrambling to make adjustments to its policy.
The Fitbit device records users’ activity and then uploads it to the company that keeps track of activity.
It’s a cool concept, except for the fact that many who have these devices are stationed overseas — some in secretive areas. This fact was seen quite clearly after the GPS tracking company Strava published a heat map.
“The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity,” The Washington Post reported.
The heat map shows populated areas in the United States and in Europe lit up like a Christmas tree. The map doesn’t show specific users, but areas that have frequent activity.
However, if you look at the map closely, you’ll see not only popular areas go bright, but war zones and deserts too.
“In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around,” The Washington Post reported.
This isn’t good, especially if they really are showing “sensitive sites.”
As a result, the military is having to “refine” the privacy settings on these devices. The Central Command press office in Kuwait told The Washington Post, “The rapid development of new and innovative information technologies enhances the quality of our lives but also poses potential challenges to operational security and force protection.”
“The Coalition is in the process of implementing refined guidance on privacy settings for wireless technologies and applications, and such technologies are forbidden at certain Coalition sites and during certain activities,” the office continued.
The potentially sensitive sites on the map include a CIA base in Somalia, a Patriot missile site in Yemen, and U.S. Special Operations bases in the Sahel region of Africa.
However, many of these locations are already known. “The Pentagon has publicly acknowledged that U.S. Special Operations troops maintain a small outpost at Tanf in the Syrian desert near the Iraqi border, which shows up on the map as a neatly illuminated oblong, probably because U.S. soldiers wearing Fitbits or similar devices either jog around or patrol the perimeter.”
Nevertheless, anything that could potentially blow the cover of our men and women in uniform is unnerving.
Our military has a difficult enough job as it is, especially when they are overseas. Having Strava publish this map surely doesn’t help keep them safe, and something must be done to fix that.
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