Apple’s iOS 8 Protects Mobile Privacy from Wi-Fi Data Collection

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One of the improved privacy features of iOS 8 could also foil marketers tracking smartphone data. Via The Loop we learned that MAC address tracking—a common method marketers (and also malware) can use to monitor mobile phones (and therefore customers) as they move through a store—is foiled by Apple's latest iOS 8 beta releases.

Here's how MAC address tracking works: A MAC (Media Access Controller) address is a unique identifier for a device; no two devices anywhere in the world have the same MAC address. That address is broadcast by devices looking to connect to Wi-Fi networks, a necessary step for the connection to be made.

But, and this is the kicker, that signal can be tracked, whether or not your phone actually connects to a wifi network while you are out and about. Cool, right?

A Swiss programmer has discovered that instead of broadcasting the actual address, current beta releases of iOS 8 generate a random string that changes from time to time. So even if you visit the same shops regularly, data collection won't show those visits as repeat business because the data from your device isn't the same every time. 

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As privacy goes, this is an interesting feature to see as part of the OS, and not as a separate app/utility that someone needs to consciously invoke in order to keep from becoming marketing data, or perhaps from becoming government data. While it isn't the greatest news for marketing companies mining that data, I much prefer a world where this is the default on all devices, not just Apple's, even though it means I may not get a coupon from a sandwich shop. 

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