- A MAC address is a 12-digit unique identifier used for identifying devices and allowing communication with other devices on a network.
- It, however, also opens up the possibility of online tracking and profiling for targeted advertising, personalized search results, or even attacks at times.
- A private Wi-Fi address solves this by assigning a random MAC address to every network with which your iPhone or iPad establishes a connection to prevent it from being identified with the same MAC address and, in turn, limit tracking.
Every time you connect your iPhone or iPad to a Wi-Fi network, the network uses your device’s MAC address to identify it and allow it to communicate on the network. In an ideal scenario, this is totally fine. However, if you often connect to public Wi-Fi networks, this can raise some privacy concerns. For instance, a network can use your iPhone or iPad’s MAC address to track your activity and location over time.
As you can imagine, this can open up the possibility of tracking one over the internet and profiling them for targeted advertising, personalized search results, or even attacks at times. To address this, Apple introduced a new privacy feature on iPhones and iPads—aptly called private Wi-Fi address—in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 that improves privacy and aims to limit such tracking.
Here’s a guide explaining private Wi-Fi addresses and the instructions to enable them on your iPhone and iPad.
What Is a Private Wi-Fi Address?
Every device that communicates over the internet uses a MAC (Media Access Control) address. The MAC is a 12-digit alphanumeric address burned onto the device at the time of manufacturing and required by networks for authenticating a device and allowing it to communicate with other devices on that network.
iPhones and iPads, too, have a MAC address. It’s commonly referred to as a Wi-Fi address and remains the same for every network they connect to on the internet. However, with the release of iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, this has changed as Apple has introduced an optional privacy feature—private Wi-Fi address—that aims to improve the privacy of connections over wireless networks using MAC address randomization.
Essentially, what Apple is doing here is giving you an option to assign a random MAC address to every network with which your iPhone or iPad establishes a connection. This address changes every 24 hours and is unique for every network. As a result, any network you connect to can’t identify your device with the same MAC address. Hence, the network operator’s risk of being tracked or profiled is brought down significantly.
How to Enable a Private Wi-Fi Address For a Network
Apple lets you enable private Wi-Fi addresses on a per-network basis. This means you can use the feature on all the public Wi-Fi addresses you connect to while having it disabled for your home network. That way, if you have MAC filtering enabled on your home network, you won’t be bothered to update your MAC ACL (Access Control List) every 24 hours.
However, starting with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, the private address feature is enabled by default for all Wi-Fi networks. You can verify this from your iPhone or iPad Settings and can even enable it, in case it isn’t enabled already, or you disabled it earlier, using these steps:
- Open Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
- Click on Wi-Fi and tap the i icon next to the Wi-Fi on which you want to use a private Wi-Fi address.
- Toggle on the button next to Private Wi-Fi Address.
- Click Continue, when prompted, to confirm the operation.
Wait for a few seconds while your device reestablishes the connection to this Wi-Fi network. Once done, your device will now mask its original MAC address with a private Wi-Fi address on that network.
How to Disable Private Wi-Fi Address For a Network
Using a private Wi-Fi address certainly adds to the protection against tracking, though it might not always be the best option. For instance, if you have MAC filtering enabled on your home network or at your workplace, the way the feature works would require you to update the ACL every 24 hours, which can be a hassle.
Similarly, there may also be times when you may want to troubleshoot connection issues on your network, where the randomization feature can pose a problem.
In either of these situations, though, you can disable the private Wi-Fi address feature on your device for that particular network to avoid any issues. Here’s how:
- Open Settings on your device.
- Go to Wi-Fi and click on the i button next to the wireless network on which you want to disable the private Wi-Fi address option.
- Toggle off the button beside Private Wi-Fi Address.
- Hit Continue when it asks for confirmation.
Limit Being Tracked Online With Private Wi-Fi Addresses
If you’re someone who connects to a lot of public Wi-Fi networks every day, such as those at public transportation terminals and cafes, using a private address can protect you from being tracked by those network operators and prevent them from profiling you on the internet. This, in turn, gives you peace of mind when using public networks and allows for a stress-free browsing experience.