by Jin S. Kim
Retailers are tracking you and have been tracking you for quite some time. They know a lot more about you than you think and probably more than you know about yourself, at least in terms of external behavior. And they know this thanks to the way your phone works when it searches for WiFi signals to connect to. Stephanie Clifford and Quentin Hardy, The New York Times on July 14, 2013:
Nordstrom’s experiment is part of a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it.
All sorts of retailers — including national chains, like Family Dollar, Cabela’s and Mothercare, a British company, and specialty stores like Benetton and Warby Parker — are testing these technologies and using them to decide on matters like changing store layouts and offering customized coupons.
Understand you don’t have to connect to the their WiFi for these retailers to track your phone. When you have WiFi turned on your phone looks for a WiFi connection and sends out its MAC address, a unique identifier. These phone tracking systems automatically logs any WiFi-enabled phone within the WiFi’s signal range. iOS 8 will change this. Luis Abreau shared via Twitter what he found during Session 715:
In iOS 8, Wi-Fi scanning behavior has changed to use random, locally administrated MAC address [...] The MAC address used for Wi-Fi scans may not always be the device’s real (universal) address
What does this mean: iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices running iOS 8 when looking for WiFi signals to connect to will give out random MAC addresses and make tracking your iOS 8 device meaningless. That’s nice, but I’d like to have this feature on iOS 7, right now.