Surprise! Retailers Can No Longer Track iPhone Users by Wi-Fi in Stores

VMS and POS System

Well, the retailer could, once. But the merchant would never know if the shopper returns because iOS 8 randomizes the device ID every time it connects to a Wi-Fi network. The solution? No surprise! Beacons. When Apple Inc. made the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 8, available last week, CEO Tim Cook launched a new section of the Apple site devoted to mobile privacy.

Cook made pointed remarks there about Apple not reading consumers’ e-mails (hello, Google), not analyzing or monetizing data stored in the iCloud, and more.

But there’s a big surprise awaiting retailers that have been using Wi-Fi to track customers with smartphones in stores.

Every computing device has a media access control address, or MAC, a unique device identifier communicated while networking with other computers and servers.

To date, retailers have been able to track smartphone-toting shoppers in stores, shoppers who connect to the merchants’ Wi-Fi networks or apps (and thus agree to the terms of service, which includes in-store and near-store tracking).

And retailers would know when specific shoppers returned to their stores (thanks to that MAC address), and thus be able to enhance marketing and selling efforts based on their history with the shoppers.

But iOS 8 randomizes the MAC address of iPhones every time it connects to a Wi-Fi network.

So while a retailer still will be able to track a smartphone shopper via Wi-Fi and send special offers when a shoppers is in the toy department or exiting the store.