If nothing else came of Edward Snowden’s leaks at least it pushed companies to focus more on privacy and security features. Whether you acknowledge Snowden as a hero or a villain (in which case you’re wrong) you are benefitting from his actions. His actions destroyed the trust people had in both the government and major technology companies. Now companies are scrambling to rebuild that trust and they’re doing so by adding more security and privacy features to their products. Come fall iOS users will be benefitting from this attempted rebuilding of trust in an interesting way as their devices will become harder to track via Wi-Fi:
It wasn’t touted onstage, but a new iOS 8 feature is set to cause havoc for location trackers, and score a major win for privacy. As spotted by Frederic Jacobs, the changes have to do with the MAC address used to identify devices within networks. When iOS 8 devices look for a connection, they randomize that address, effectively disguising any trace of the real device until it decides to connect to a network.
Every network interface has a media access control (MAC) address. In the case of Wi-Fi interfaces this address is plainly visible to anybody watching. That makes tracking devices via Wi-Fi fairly trivial. If you see a MAC address picked up by a cafe at one end of the street and a library at the other end of the street you know where the user is and the direction he or she is traveling. With enough data you can get a pretty good idea of the places a person frequents.
Randomizing this address until a connection has been made to the access point makes tracking a device over time difficult as it doesn’t appear to be the same device every time it passes an access point.
I believe this is a good feature and cannot wait until other manufacturers add it to their products.