Mobile

iOS 8 fights unwanted location tracking with randomized MAC addresses

Image Credit: illustration by Tom Cheredar
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Apple will score some major privacy points with iOS 8.

The tech giant has changed iOS so that the operating system will hide the real, unique MAC (Media Access Control) address of an iPhone or iPad scanning Wi-Fi networks, reports Quartz. By generating a random, locally administered MAC address in place of a universal address, Apple devices running iOS 8 will stymie some marketers and advertisers looking to slurp up your location data, browsing patterns, personal info, and more.

That data can be incredibly valuable to retail companies — particularly in the context of inventory data and in-store video footage — which can determine ideal store layouts and target shoppers with special offers. Companies like Euclid Analytics sit behind retail shops’ network infrastructure to sniff out such insights.

Whisper Systems developer Frederic Jacobs first publicized Apple’s efforts to combat those efforts in a tweet that features a slide from a WWDC session on user privacy in iOS and OS X.

By randomizing MAC addresses, Apple will certainly prevent some privacy leaks, but it’s probably also trying to drum up interest for iBeacon, its proximity-based tracking and advertising platform for iOS devices. iBeacon, which uses low-energy Bluetooth, is a bit less invasive than sniffing out MAC addresses — iBeacon trackers don’t receive data from devices, and there are ways to opt-out, like not installing iBeacon-aware apps — but it can lead to many of the same inferences.

More about the companies and people from this article:

Apple designs and markets consumer electronics, computer software, and personal computers. The company's best-known hardware products include the Macintosh line of computers, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple software includes t... read more »

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3 comments
Erik Godin
Erik Godin

Fact is, randomized MAC addresses when scanning for WIFIs is a GOOD thing. Yes, MAC addresses are supposed to be unique, but only at the switching layer. Beyond that, it really doesn't matter.

Erik Godin
Erik Godin

Wtf are you talking about man, your latest comment makes no sense with regards to the subject of the article. Is this your way of telling me you know nothing about networking?

Erik Godin
Erik Godin

Reading the article, it states "... while scanning for WIFIs" If you read between the lines, it sounds like the random address will only be used to scan WIFIs and the BIA would still be used for actual connections. This will in no way shape or form create any problems. EVEN if the random MAC address was to be used for connections, MAC addresses only matter at layer2 (switching). Once you get beyond the gateway (router, firewwall, layer 3 switch) the MAC address doesn't matter anymore.