iOS 8: Apple kills creepy Wi-Fi Location Tracking? Not really

Apple [AAPL] has won wide praise for making it a little harder to track iPhone users in iOS 8, but it hasn't prevented this kind of surveillance.

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You are the product

You see, when your iOS 8 device scans local Wi-Fi networks, it won't use the device's real address, meaning Mobile Location Analytics (MLA) firms will be unable to track you through your device.  That's a small problem for some firms who use such data to make predictions about you, also known as "audience profiling."

However, Apple's protection isn't complete. Apps (or firms) that want your data can persuade you to opt-in to tracking services if they want to monitor you, though Apple has made it more likely they'll ask you first.

They won't ask directly.

How it works

This is how it works: When you download an app, it will tell you it can work better, or give you personalized offers or other inducements if you switch Location Services on. In some cases these apps will be connected to a brand, but they needn't be -- any app that harvests such data could be doing so for an MLA firm -- even a game.

As you might expect at this stage of the unfolding Singularity, offering customer convenience in exchange for such data has been a highly effective way of convincing most of us to do just that. You get the benefits and they get you.

Some uses of this data:

  • Personalized ads
  • Personalized offers
  • Customer traffic analysis
  • Product and location popularity
  • Store location decisions
  • And many, many more

Singularity

Data is often stored anonymously for a limited time. However, once someone has it, there's little to prevent aggregating it with information acquired elsewhere. This already happens as marketers seek big data to support their multichannel efforts. What some customers call creepy surveillance they call "understanding the customer journey."

But Apple's move to put additional safeguards around iOS users puts a little more trust into the exchange:

"Providing additional privacy safeguards at the device level will help address any lingering privacy concerns with Wi-Fi based analytics.  We see a major win-win for retailers looking to deploy mobile locations analytics and the consumers they serve," MLA firm Euclid told MarketingLand.

Wi-Fi is not the only connected technology used to get this information -- there are other ways.

You can limit the amount of information gathered about you if you sacrifice some of the benefits of a mobile device:

  • Switch off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Turn off Location Services in apps
  • Don't store Wi-Fi network passwords

Lack of regulation

There are good reasons for suspicion: The only limitation on what U.S. firms do with this data is contained within a voluntary code of conduct agreed on by the firms themselves. Not every MLA firm is signed up to it, there is no international agreement and there is little relevant legislation to limit its use. The Location Analytics market is expected to reach $11.84 billion by 2019 -- your data is their business.

The positive slant of most reports on Apple's move to limit this kind of data collection suggests suspicious consumers in the post-Edward Snowden era are asking just how much privacy they are prepared to sacrifice for protection or convenience.

Apple's move to put a little more control back into consumer hands is to be welcomed, even if it isn't really enough -- particularly given that "Does Privacy Exist?" was on the agenda at Bilderberg 2014.

I hope this report helps you better understand some of the ways in which these kinds of technologies are used, policed and understood. I recommend vetting those apps for which you enable Location Services on a regular basis.

Also read:

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