Impact of MAC Randomization on Wi-Fi Management

MAC Randomization and CloudCheck: What ASSIA Customers Need to Know

Apple released a beta version of iOS 14 at WWDC 2020 in June, and with it, came a new feature intended to protect consumer privacy: changing the default state of the iOS device’s media access control (MAC) device address from static to dynamic. Google Android 10 also released a similar function in 2019, however, the default state is static. In both operating systems, the user has the ability to manually change the MAC address setting from dynamic to static.

What is a MAC address, and why hide it?

A MAC address is a unique identifier assigned to every device that connects to a network—smartphones, watches, tablets, computers. Because a MAC address is usually hard-coded into the device’s network card, the information is permanently there and accessible to third parties to collect data from network-enabled devices.

When users connect to public Wi-Fi in an airport, advertisers or stores can collect data on users’ locations, visits to stores, and engagement. With the release of Android 10 and iOS14, users can now mask their MAC addresses through a process called randomization.

What is MAC randomization, and what does it do?

Randomization creates a different, anonymized MAC address, instead of the real address, every time the same device connects to the internet. By hiding the exact address, users protect their privacy and prevent tracking when they connect to a network. MAC randomization has been present in most operating systems in some form over the last few years, but now the industry is moving to put tighter controls in place for consumer privacy and network security reasons.

What’s the impact on Wi-Fi management systems like CloudCheck?

Wi-Fi management systems, like CloudCheck, use MAC addresses as station identifiers. Station identifiers help CloudCheck know how many devices are on the network and optimize the Wi-Fi accordingly.

When subscribers connect to a Wi-Fi network and surf the internet, there will be no impact on CloudCheck’s capabilities without randomization. When randomization is enabled, some of the tracking features will not work as designed because the same device will use multiple MAC Addresses and appear as multiple devices in the system.

Impacted functions include:

  • Parental controls
  • Tracking daily Wi-Fi stats for a station – RSSI, throughput and data consumption
  • Station list in the user interface—some of the stations will appear twice or more
  • Optimization actions using historical network and operation data of a station
  • Blocking list of stations

Further random algorithms and impact will vary depending on the operating systems:
Android 10: As long as the user connects to an existing SSID, the MAC address would remain constant

  • iOS 14: Addresses change daily.
  • Android 10: Both options above are available for the user to select.

How is ASSIA addressing the impact of randomization?

ASSIA’s patent-pending device identification methods allow ASSIA to recognize the non-privacy-related devices for management and thus preserve the consumer’s good connectivity.

For more details, please contact your ASSIA representative or visit our contact us page.