What you need to know
- Apple's iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7 will be able to randomize devices' MAC addresses.
- Apple says it will help with user privacy.
- But this will need to be disabled in some network settings.
Apple will release iOS 14, iPad 14, and watchOS 7 to the public later this year and developers are already testing them out. Apple has also published some support documentation for the updates ahead of time with one tidbit proving particularly interesting. All three of those updates will be able to randomize a device's MAC address to help maintain user privacy.
To communicate with a Wi-Fi network, a device must identify itself to the network using a unique network address called a media access control (MAC) address. If the device always uses the same Wi-Fi MAC address, network operators and other network observers can more easily relate that address to the device's network activity and location over time. This allows a kind of user tracking or profiling, and it applies to all devices on all Wi-Fi networks.
To reduce this privacy risk, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7 include a feature that periodically changes the MAC address your device uses with each Wi-Fi network. This randomized MAC address is your device's private Wi-Fi address for that network—until the next time it joins with a different address.
And that's great, for users at least. But as Hacket also points out, there is a potential for all kinds of problems here.
Many enterprise Wi-Fi setups rely on identifying MAC addresses as a way to handle authentication. If a device doesn't present a MAC address that's approved, it can't get onto the network. Some particularly security-conscious home users might have a similar switch flipped in their civilian setups, too. In both cases, having a device change something that's historically been static could lead to all kinds of unforeseen problems.
Thankfully Apple will allow this MAC randomization to be disabled at will. It also appears to be disabled by default, too. At least, it is in the current developer beta of iOS 14.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.
Ooredoo ONE subscribers can now get an Apple TV 4K with their TV plan
Subscribers to Qatari TV company Ooredoo can get a free Apple TV 4K with their ONE plan right now.
EU says it is 'aware' of Facebook Gaming and Microsoft xCloud concerns
The European Commission has said it is "aware" of concerns over Apple's App Store rules regarding recent news over Microsoft's Project xCloud gaming service and Facebook Gaming.
Apple gets approval for the South Korean launch of Apple Watch ECG support
Apple has reportedly been granted the necessary documentation to launch its Apple Watch ECG feature in South Korea.
Apple's Mac and MacBook collection all in one place
Apple's Mac laptop and desktop lineup is more versatile than you may realize.