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DOD addressing fitness trackers that share military members' locations

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KATV) -- Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is sounding the alarm about an unlikely vulnerability within America’s armed forces: fitness tracking devices.

In an age of smart phones, tablets, and Fitbits, most of us share our location everywhere we go. However, Senator Cotton has addressed the US Department of Defense to take a closer look at the security risk of fitness trackers worn by military members in specific.

“He’s putting us at the forefront but it goes along with the already technological nature of the State of Arkansas. We’ve got to change our name from the natural state to the cyber state,” Major William Phillips, state public affairs officer for the Arkansas National Guard, said. He wears a fitness tracking device himself, and is all too familiar with how easily his location could be pinged.

Fitness tracking apps like Strava pinpoint data from Fitbits and such onto what’s called a “heat map” which shows runners popular exercise locations and routes.

“Technology is advancing. They’re able to use the data that they’ve been collecting in new and innovative ways; it highlights how smart people are getting,” Phillips added.

While that’s all good and great, Cotton’s letter to the DOD stresses that there are locations and identities of military personnel working in sensitive areas that must be kept under wraps.

According to Phillips, the DOD is working to stay ahead of the curve: “They’re currently taking a look at what they can do as far as policies and administrative programs to make sure the safety and security of our DOD personnel worldwide is addressed.”

Meanwhile, Cotton is asking the DOD about its policies on “nomap” features on such devices—essentially, that’s the ability to opt out of sharing a device’s location.

“Every year, every soldier, every airman goes through an informational security program training event which talks about how they conduct themselves online and wearing trackable devices,” Phillips explained.

Those yearly training programs remind military members which facilities they can and cannot take their phones and other devices in with them.

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