The best new feature from Apple’s newest mobile software could be the one that, fittingly, was never mentioned onstage.
A new pro-privacy update to iOS 8 will make it much more difficult for devices to be tracked via location data, thanks to a change in devices’ MAC address systems. The addresses are used to individually identify hardware on networks, and Apple’s new update will randomize the address of every single device until it connects to a network – effectively disguising its traces until the user chooses otherwise.
The New York Times reported last year on the growing trend in the retail industry of tracking customers’ locations via the WiFi signals from their smartphones, which can be used to determine shopping tastes, habits, visit frequencies, and other information.
Major retailers including Nordstrom, JC Penny, Family Dollar, Cabela’s and others use such systems to log every visit from every customer within range, and one system in London went as far as using public trash cans as tracking beacons.
Once iOS 8 is released, any iPhone running the software will now be invisible to such systems.
Security researcher Frederic Jacobs said he hopes Apple’s pro-privacy update “becomes an industry standard” in a recent tweet announcing the find. Such a standard could derail the entire retail-trailing system, which combines WiFi tracking with inventory records and in-store video surveillance to create incredibly valuable marketing data.
More than one-third of all smartphones in the U.S. use iOS, which boasts a “notoriously-fast adoption cycle” for software updates, according to The Verge.