This week Apple made an historic move towards improved privacy for users of its mobile devices. The problem is that few know they did it and even fewer understand what it is they did.
We’ve all heard by now of the concerns on government spying and our mobile carrier’s ability to track out whereabouts by triangulating our cell phone signals. However, very few people know about the simple way our mobile devices betray our trust every day.
You see, every device on a network has a unique “name” called a Media Access Control address also known as a MAC address. Your phone, tablet and any other device with Wi-Fi enabled has one and isn’t shy about it. While you may not be aware of it these devices are always shouting out “Hey all you access points, I’m looking to connect! My name is <MAC address>.” This is how your devices automatically connect to known wireless networks.
Like many convenient features in computing, this one has been used by some organizations to track people’s devices with neither their knowledge nor their permission. (Click here for a great article on the situation and some legal action taking place in San Francisco). What is happening is there are now companies writing software that when your device beacons out “I’m here and my name is <MAC Address>” the software will record your visit and look for patterns of consumer behavior. While they claim not to make any effort to identify the owner they do record the device’s visits.
Apple, with very little fanfare or press releases has added a new feature to iOS 8 that will send out randomized MAC addresses when the Apple device beacons essentially defeating any software that is tracking the device via the MAC address. What that means is that the tracking software used to data mine your visits and movements will be flooded with random MAC addresses!
For more information on your Online Privacy visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website at www.eff.org.
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