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Apple Battles MAC Address-based Location Tracking in iOS 8

Posted on June 10, 2014 8:30 AM by Rob Williams
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At its annual WWDC event in San Francisco, Apple never fails to reveal some cool features, either for the iPhone or other product lines. For iOS 8, though, the company left out a worthwhile mention – probably because it’s not one that would be considered “fun” or “hip”. Yet, it’s a boon to our privacy, and should be talked about.

One way advertisers and other entities track us when we’re out and about is via our mobile device’s MAC address. Most often, a device will use the same MAC address until it’s manually refreshed, so you might be able to understand why MAC tracking is quite effective. Changing your MAC address doesn’t affect your Internet capabilities, though, and when not actively connected to a WiFi spot, that MAC address can constantly change with no detriment to performance or cellular quality. Can you see where we’re going with this?

iPhone 5S Using iOS 8

In iOS 8, whenever a new Wi-Fi spot triggers the scan function in your iPhone, the device will automatically assign a unique address to that specific signal. If 10 Wi-Fi spots are in your vicinity, then the phone would respond to them all with ten different MAC addresses. Once back at home, the same MAC address you’ve always used to connect to your personal Wi-Fi will be active.

Overall, this move is bad for advertisers or firms that have taken advantage of MAC addresses to track users. In reality, this iOS 8 feature is simple in design, but Apple deserves some major kudos for being the first to add it in as an OS feature. It might seem impossible that Google would put a similar feature in Android, given a massive chunk of its revenue revolves around tracking results, but it could happen. Recently, the company released a browser extension for Chrome that enables end-to-end encryption, despite that making it harder on itself to properly follow you around for ad-serving purposes. For privacy’s sake, I hope Google follows Apple’s lead.


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