iOS 8’s WiFi location privacy isn’t as powerful as you might think

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iphone-6-find-my-iphoneIf you were hoping that iOS 8’s ability to hide your device ID from nearby WiFi networks would render you invisible to nosy hotspot operators, you’ll want to dial back your expectations a bit. AirTight Networks’ Bhupinder Misra has found that Apple’s hardware address randomization only kicks in under a very narrow set of circumstances. You not only have to put your device to sleep and turn off location services, you have to turn off cellular data as well — in short, your iPhone has to become a paperweight. Even then, the masking only appears to work with iOS devices using at least an A7 processor, like the iPhone 5s.

As such, it’s business as usual for institutions and stores that want to track your phone for the sake of stats and marketing. The only way to avoid giving out your hardware’s real ID is to… well, stop using your hardware. The risk of revealing anything truly personal is relatively slim, but you’re not going to be happy if you were hoping to go incognito around public WiFi access points. Not that companies would necessarily be deterred even if the location privacy feature was more useful. As AirTight’s Hemant Chaskar notes to The Verge, it’s possible for those monitoring WiFi data to toss out fake device info. Although they won’t get a complete view of the people wandering near their networks, they can still make use of whatever data is left.