A Tiny Technical Change in iOS 8 Could Stop Marketers Spying on You

A customer examines an iPhone 5s.

A customer examines an iPhone 5s. Nati Harnik/AP

Whenever you walk around a major Western city with your phone’s Wi-Fi turned on, you are broadcasting your location to government agencies, marketing companies and location analytics firms.

Whenever you walk around a major Western city with your phone’s Wi-Fi turned on, you are broadcasting your location to government agencies, marketing companies and location analytics firms.

In shopping malls, for instance, a firm called Euclid Analytics collects, in its own words, “the presence of the device, its signal strength, its manufacturer (Apple, Samsung, etc.), and a unique identifier known as its Media Access Control (MAC) address.” In London last year, one start-up installed a dozen recycling bins that sniffed MAC addresses from passers-by, effectively tracking people through the area via their phones. Such companies go to great lengths to explain that such information in not personally identifiable—except that repeated studies have shown that this data can indeed be used to infer a great deal about your life.

At the core of such tracking is the MAC address, a unique identification number tied to each device. Devices looking for a Wi-Fi network send out their MAC address to identify themselves. Wireless routers receive the signals—and addresses—even if a connection is never made. Companies like Euclid or its peer Turnstyle Solutions use the data to track footfall in stores, how people move about in shops, how long they linger in certain sections, and how often they return. Store-owners use the information to target shoppers with offers (paywall) or to move high-value items to highly-trafficked parts of the shop, among other things.

Even though stores may not mine this data to try to identify individuals, there are plenty of legitimate privacy concerns about the data collection, especially since people tend to be unaware that it is happening. Apple’s solution, as discovered by a Swiss programmer, is for iOS 8, the new operating system for iPhones which will be out later this year, to generate a random MAC addresses while scanning for networks. That means that companies and agencies that collect such information will not necessarily know when the same device (i.e., person) visits a store twice, or that the same device pops up in stores across the country or the world, suggesting a much-travelled owner.

This is not the first time Apple has fiddled around with the way it administer MAC addresses. The current operating system for iPhones, iOS 7, prevents app developersfrom using MAC addresses to track how many people have installed their apps or to target ads—again, for privacy reasons. The change in iOS 8 has wider ramifications because it doesn’t just affect developers who build iOS apps, but any company that uses the nature of wireless networking to identify a device.

But while Apple’s move is good for its customers and for their privacy, it is not an invisibility cloakIf there is one thing we have learned from the past year of exposés about government snooping, it is that people are easily gulled into surrendering their online privacyFor example, stores increasingly offer customers free Wi-Fi to convince customers to linger longer, but also to extract valuable data from them, such as name and other basic personal information, browsing patterns, and more.Apple’s change to how MAC addresses are used won’t prevent thatBy connecting to a Wi-Fi network, customers willingly give up such data and then some: A survey by Purple Wi-Fi, which provides tracking services for Wi-Fi networks to businesses in the UK, found that some 17% of consumers log on to internet banking from unsecured, public networks.

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.