Apple has enabled MAC address randomization in iOS 8 (from Frederic Jacobs via HackerNews), which means it’s harder for marketers to keep track of your comings and goings in or around public Wi-Fi networks. In the updated software, while your iPhone is scanning for Wi-Fi networks, it assigns a “random, locally administered” MAC address, which is typically a constant, unique identifier attached to your phone’s wireless network interface.
Some other changes it has implemented have made it easier for those promoting commerce activity on the iPhone, as I discussed in a column this weekend, but this option helps curtail some of the more surreptitious marketing activity, as opposed to stuff where a customer has displayed a direct intent to want to fork over some cash. MAC addresses can help retailers and others track return visits and build a shopper profile, by linking in-store visits to purchases and other types of information.
It’s possible that this isn’t altogether focused on just consumer privacy, however; Apple offers iBeacons, which use Bluetooth (which also randomizes addresses), as an alternative method for connecting software with in-store shoppers. But it still results in a net gain for privacy overall, since Apple’s own tech also offers more and more transparent privacy controls for the user, so it’s far easier to opt out of participating with marketer plans.