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.