How iOS 8 defeats Wi-Fi location tracking in stores, malls and elsewhere

iOS 8 (MAC address randomization 001)

In a move designed to appease privacy watchers and further protect your privacy, Apple has made it that much harder for pesky marketeers to identify your device (and consequentially you as a user) or track your location as you go about your business. As discovered by Swiss programmer Frederic Jacobs, iOS 8 randomizes your device’s MAC address while scanning for networks.

A MAC address serves as a unique identifier assigned to network interfaces for communications on the physical network segment. By randomizing your device’s MAC address each time it scans for nearby Wi-Fi hotspots, iOS 8¬†effectively disguises any trace of the real device. Here’s hoping this becomes an industry standard. Jump past the fold to learn more about this nifty feature…

Jacobs shared an image on Twitter – basically a slide from Apple’s WWDC 2014 videos – outlining the new feature.

You’d be surprised how aggressively certain companies harvest MAC addresses for marketing and other purposes. In fact, there’s a whole industry built on MAC data collection.

A story by The New York Times highlights a company called Euclid Analytics, whose primary reason of existence is to log MAC addresses of devices in the vicinity of Wi-Fi zones in shopping malls, in order to learn about the various patterns of shoppers and sell that intelligence to third-parties.

Another startup has even dared install trash bins at London’s most trafficked location in order to collect the MAC addresses from passers-by, as reported by ArsTechnica.

I mean, how crazy is that?

The problem is, these controversial methods could be viewed as an aggressive violation of user privacy because that’s exactly what they are – privacy intrusions that shouldn’t be tolerated.

With this in mind, I’m really glad Apple has acted to make it harder for marketeers to track our location and identify our devices.

Sweet, no?

This is bound to cause havoc for mobile trackers and that can only be a good thing.