Mobile marketing companies slurp up your info during moments of desperation: When you’re scanning for a free Wi-Fi network, whether at the shopping centre, airport or footy game. A small detail in iOS 8 is going to make that a whole lot harder — but Apple may have an ulterior motive.
When your phone scans for networks, it sends out a MAC address that contains an identifier unique to your phone. Your MAC address is a little bit like a tagging device — it lets companies know things like your phone make, as well as whether you’re a repeat customer at a certain store. That’s how they use it to recommend deals based on your habits, just like London’s failed program to use smart rubbish bins to track consumers using MAC addresses last year.
But as a Swiss programmer named Frederic Jacobs pointed out on Twitter yesterday, iOS 8 contains a little MAC address change with big implications. It automatically randomises MAC addresses. That would mean that marketing companies wouldn’t be able to track your patterns at all.
iOS 8 randomises the MAC address while scanning for WiFi networks. Hoping that this becomes an industry standard. pic.twitter.com/oGsZMtydUo
— Frederic Jacobs (@FredericJacobs) June 8, 2014
It’s definitely good news. But does it mean that Apple has somehow come out against these insidious companies? Not exactly.
In fact, you could even speculate that barring MAC address-slurping companies from targeting Apple users is a way to bolster their own location-aware Bluetooth notification project: iBeacon. As Apple Insider pointed out last week, Apple is making a major push to revamp it, piloting a program that will ping users walking near the Apple Store or Starbucks.
So while randomising MAC addresses will make you invisible to mobile marketers, don’t rejoice just yet — iBeacon may be waiting in the wings. [Qz]