Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other devices

Servicemen take part in the joint multinational military exercise "Noble Partner 2018" at Vaziani training centre, outside Tbilisi, on August 1, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 07 August 2018
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Pentagon restricts use of fitness trackers, other devices

  • Defense personnel who aren’t in sensitive areas will be able to use the GPS applications if the commanders conclude they don’t present a risk
  • The Pentagon immediately launched a review, noting that the electronic signals could potentially disclose the location of troops who are in secret or classified locations or on small forward operating bases in hostile areas

WASHINGTON: Military troops and other defense personnel at sensitive bases or certain high-risk warzone areas won’t be allowed to use fitness-tracker or cellphone applications that can reveal their location, according to a new Pentagon order.
The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, stops short of banning the fitness trackers or other electronic devices, which are often linked to cellphone applications or smart watches and can provide the users’ GPS and exercise details to social media. It says the applications on personal or government-issued devices present a “significant risk” to military personnel, so those capabilities must be turned off in certain operational areas.
Under the new order, military leaders will be able to determine whether troops under their command can use the GPS function on their devices, based on the security threat in that area or on that base.
“These geolocation capabilities can expose personal information, locations, routines, and numbers of DOD personnel, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission,” the memo said.
Defense personnel who aren’t in sensitive areas will be able to use the GPS applications if the commanders conclude they don’t present a risk. For example, troops exercising at major military bases around the country, such at Fort Hood in Texas or Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, would likely be able to use the location software on their phones or fitness devices. Troops on missions in more sensitive locations, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or parts of Africa, meanwhile, would be restricted from using the devices or be required to turn off any location function.
Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said it’s a move to ensure the enemy can’t easily target US forces.
“It goes back to making sure that we’re not giving the enemy an unfair advantage and we’re not showcasing the exact locations of our troops worldwide,” Manning said.
Concerns about exercise trackers and other electronic devices came to a head in January in the wake of revelations that an interactive, online map was pinpointing troop locations, bases and other sensitive areas around the world.
The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, used satellite information to map the locations of subscribers to Strava’s fitness service. At the time, the map showed activity from 2015 through September 2017. And while heavily populated areas were well lit, warzones such as Iraq and Syria show scattered pockets of activity that could denote military or government personnel using fitness trackers as they move around.
The Pentagon immediately launched a review, noting that the electronic signals could potentially disclose the location of troops who are in secret or classified locations or on small forward operating bases in hostile areas.
This is the second memo affecting the use of cellphones and other electronic devices that the department has released in recent months. In May, defense officials laid out new restrictions for the use of cellphones and other mobile wireless devices inside the Pentagon.
That memo called for stricter adherence to long-held practices that require phones be left in storage containers outside secure areas where sensitive matters are discussed. But it also stopped short of banning the devices, and instead made clear that cellphones can still be used in common areas and other offices in the Pentagon if classified information is not present.
The latest memo says the new restrictions include GPS functions on fitness trackers, phones, tablets, smartwatches and other applications.
The Pentagon also said it will provide additional cybersecurity training to include the risks posed by the trackers and other mobile devices.
Heather Pierce, a spokeswoman for Fitbit, said Monday: “Fitbit is committed to protecting consumer privacy and keeping data safe. Unlike a smartphone, location data is not collected by Fitbit unless a user gives us access to the data, and users can always remove our access.”


Google looking to future after 20 years of search

Updated 24 September 2018
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Google looking to future after 20 years of search

  • Google was launched in September 1998 in a garage rented in the Northern California city of Menlo Park
  • The name is a play on the mathematical term ‘googol,’ which refers to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros

SAN FRANCISCO: Google celebrated its 20th birthday Monday, marking two decades in which it has grown from simply a better way to explore the Internet to a search engine so woven into daily life its name has become a verb.
The company was set to mark its 20th anniversary with an event in San Francisco devoted to the future of online search, promising a few surprise announcements.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford University — known for its location near Silicon Valley — when they came up with a way to efficiently index and search the Internet.
The duo went beyond simply counting the number of times keywords were used, developing software that took into account factors such as relationships between webpages to help determine where they should rank in search results.
Google was launched in September 1998 in a garage rented in the Northern California city of Menlo Park. The name is a play on the mathematical term “googol,” which refers to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.
Google reportedly ran for a while on computer servers at Stanford, where a version of the search had been tested.
And Silicon Valley legend has it that Brin and Page offered to sell the company early on for a million dollars or so, but no deal came together.
Google later moved its headquarters to Mountain View, where it remains.
In August 2004, Google went public on the stock market with shares priced at $85. Shares in the multi-billion-dollar company are now trading above $1,000.
Its early code of conduct included a now-legendary “don’t be evil” clause. Its stated mission is to make the world’s information available to anyone.
The company hit a revenue mother lode with tools that target online ads based on what users reveal and let marketers pay only if people clicked on links in advertising.
It has now launched an array of offerings including Maps, Gmail, the Chrome Internet browser, and an Android mobile device operating system that is free to smartphone or tablet makers.
Google also makes premium Pixel smartphones to showcase Android, which dominates the market with handsets made by an array of manufacturers.
Meanwhile, it bought the 18-month-old YouTube video sharing platform in 2006 in a deal valued at $1.65 billion — which seemed astronomical at the time but has proven shrewd as entertainment moved online.
The company also began pumping money into an X Lab devoted to technology “moon shots” such as Internet-linked glasses, self-driving cars, and using high-altitude balloons to provide Internet service in remote locations.
Some of those have evolved into companies, such as the Waymo self-driving car unit. But Google has also seen failures, such as much-maligned Google Glass eyewear.
Elsewhere, the Google+ social network launched to compete with Facebook has seen little meaningful traction.
In October 2015, corporate restructuring saw the creation of parent company Alphabet, making subsidiaries of Google, Waymo, health sciences unit Verily and other properties.
Google is also now a major player in artificial intelligence, its digital assistant infused into smart speakers and more. Its AI rivals include Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
Despite efforts to diversify its business, Alphabet — which has over 80,000 employees worldwide — still makes most of its money from online ads. Industry tracker eMarketer forecast that Google and Facebook together will capture 57.7 percent US digital ad revenue this year.
In the second quarter of 2018, Google reported profit of $3.2 billion despite a fine of $5.1 billion imposed by the European Union.
Google’s rise put it in the crosshairs of regulators, especially in Europe, due to concerns it may be abusing its domination of online search and advertising as well as smartphone operating software.
There have been worries that Alphabet is more interested in making money from people’s data than it is in safeguarding their privacy.
Google has also been accused of siphoning money and readers away from mainstream news organizations by providing stories in online search results, where it can cash in on ads.
It is among the tech companies being called upon to better guard against the spread of misinformation — and has also been a target of US President Donald Trump, who added his voice to a chorus of Republicans who contend conservative viewpoints are downplayed in search results.