The Guardian’s Alex Hern reports that Apple’s iOS 8 broadcasts a randomized, false MAC address from mobile devices in order to stop retailers from tracking shopper behavior, in Apple’s iOS 8 will stop retailers spying on customers via Wi-Fi. But the details are fascinating in just how complex and nuanced such functional changes have become. Yes, the MAC address will not be your phone’s actual ID. In fact, each time your phone scans for local WiFi signals, it will produce a new, random MAC address. This destroys a number of company’s plans to track just how a shopper moves through a store or a shopping mall using wireless signals. Unless your phone actually joins the WiFi signal, in which case it begins producing an authentic MAC address for the entire period when you are joined to WiFi. So joining that free WiFi will have consequences that ninety percent of shoppers will simply not appreciate without deliberate explanation.
But from an economic point of view, this is great business for Apple itself, as they can offer their iBeacon service to retailers instead (with third parties making and selling the small beacon transmitters). So: destroy the old technique for behavioral surveillance; create a new, App-based, hardware-based one that is single-company, and then market the new product, which is now protected by several barriers to entry. Yes, you would need to install the retailer’s app for this form of tracking; and so those choices will depend upon the value proposition stores offer you for downloading and running their apps. But of course, all this will further challenge the consumer’s ability to appreciate just how their innocent-seeming purchasing and downloading decisions impact their privacy.