Fort Drum officials caution soldiers about location-tracking fitness devices

A portion of the Strava Labs heat map from Beirut, made by tracking activities.


By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 3, 2018

Fort Drum officials are advising soldiers to be cautious with their use of location-tracking fitness devices as military officials evaluate concerns that they give away troop movements.

“We just told them, we want to make sure they have the situational awareness that this is what the impacts are,” said Maj. Isaac L. Taylor, 10th Mountain Division public affairs officer.

The release of a global “heat map” showing the location of user exercise activity by fitness company Strava also appeared to highlight locations of sensitive government facilities throughout the world. The reveal raised concerns from top military officials and members of Congress.

The heat map essentially outlined the major roads of Fort Drum, including North and South Riva Ridge Loop along with Tigris River Valley Road.

Though Fort Drum’s overall location is far from a secret given prominent signage in the community and visibility on GPS products like Google Maps, there could be some risks locally from the data.

“You’re showing patterns of life,” Taylor said.

The major said that division officials are waiting for further guidance from the Department of Defense on how they should proceed.

For the approximately 4,000 10th Mountain Division soldiers deployed to 17 countries across the world, they will most likely get guidance on the tracking applications from their leadership.

“Our main thing is ensuring the security of our teams and making sure we’re effective downrange,” Taylor said.

The news underscored growing concerns about the privacy of fitness apps, as experts found ways to use the Strava app to find the names and photographs of individual users, along with the biking and jogging routes they used.

Such user data, along with military supply and convoy routes, is potentially valuable information to adversaries and those who might plan attacks on U.S. forces, experts said.

On Thursday, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said the news “provided an opportunity for us to see a possible vulnerability.”

She said the Department of Defense is launching a comprehensive review of how to deal with electronics, particularly those with GPS capabilities.

Previously, Strava has urged its users to review their privacy settings and said it was working with government and military officials to address concerns about the location of sensitive facilities.

The controversy also has highlighted concerns about ordinary users of fitness tracking devices and similar apps on smartphones, as well as the growing importance of location data generally to Silicon Valley.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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