Apple Will Prevent Businesses From Tracking iPhone Users Via Wifi

Remember when Nordstrom began tracking customers’ movements in and out of their stores by using smartphones’ individual Media Access Control (MAC) addresses if those phones tried to connect to in-store wifi, then abruptly stopped when the public found out about it? App developers say that Apple is ending such tracking in the next version of its mobile operating system by randomizing MAC addresses.

At the time, Nordstrom insisted that the tracking program was supposed to track customers in the aggregate: not necessarily remembering that you, personally, browsed bras and cookware and then took off, but looking at customers as anonymous dots that come and go. If a large number of customers swarmed on a certain part of the store and then left abruptly, that could help with staffing decisions. In theory.

While Apple’s change pleases privacy fans like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota), it’s not entirely altruistic. Apple wants retailers to check out its own tracking system for customers, called iBeacon, which uses small, low-energy Bluetooth transmitters that alert your phone when you pass by them. Users who have a store’s app installed can receive special alerts or coupons when they walk past a beacon, but only if they have the store’s app installed.

How Apple’s new software makes it harder for retailers to track your movements [Washington Post]