Foursquare, other geolocation services could endanger troops

Popular geolocation services tell smart-phone users where they are, but the Air Force warns that they could also tell the enemy as well.

Web-based geolocation services are popular with civilian users because they tell them and their friends exactly where they are. This has the Air Force very worried.

The service has warned its personnel to be careful about using popular geolocation services such as Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt because they could inadvertently reveal their location to the enemy. According to the Associated Press, this was spelled out earlier this month in a post on an internal Air Force website warning that “careless use of these services by airmen can have devastating operations security and privacy implications.” The message was also sent to top commanders, who were directed to alert their forces.

Information Week reported that Defense Department officials worry about the possibility that the enemy could make use of geolocation sites to track individuals’ smart phones and gain tactical advantage by anticipating operational movements. The AP noted that the Army plans to circulate a similar directive about location services to top officers next week.

But this isn’t the first time that DOD has been concerned by the potential threat presented by location-based applications riding on commercial handheld devices. GCN has reported that security experts have raised concerns about other features such as browser plug-ins that allow users to identify the location of photographs tagged with geotags. Other software tools can be used to track a smart phone through GPS and display the device’s location on Google Maps.



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