You may see a setting called Private Wi-Fi address while customizing your Wi-Fi settings on your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. This setting is enabled by default, but it can be turned off. You may wonder what this setting does and if you should turn it off or keep it on. This article will answer these questions.
Private Wi-Fi Address
In order to connect to a Wi-Fi network, a device needs to establish its identity with the network by using a distinctive network address known as a Media Access Control (MAC) address.
The MAC address is like a digital fingerprint for your device on a network; it is unique to that device. Every network device, such as network interface cards in computers, mobile phones, routers, and other networking equipment, has a unique MAC address.
When a device consistently employs the same Wi-Fi MAC address across various networks, network operators can more readily associate that address with the device’s network behavior and location over an extended period. This can cause privacy vulnerabilities, as this can facilitate user tracking or profiling.
To improve privacy and overcome this vulnerability, Apple implemented the Private Wi-Fi address feature, starting with iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7. This feature allows you to use a unique MAC address for each Wi-Fi network, thus preventing network operators and other observers from tracking or profiling.
Instead of consistently using the device’s unique hardware MAC address permanently for all networks, the private Wi-Fi address feature generates a unique MAC address for each network. This makes it more challenging for third parties to monitor and track a device’s movements or activities based on its network connections. It’s a measure designed to enhance user privacy in wireless networks.
How to change your device’s Private Wi-Fi Address
You can change your device’s private Wi-Fi address by doing any of the following:
- You can erase all content and settings by going to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset [Device] > Erase All Content and Settings. This is also called factory reset, and it will erase everything.
- You can reset network settings on the device by going to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset [Device] > Reset Network Settings. This will only reset network related settings.
- If you have not connected to a network for 6 weeks, the next time your device connects to that network, your device will utilize a new private Wi-Fi address.
- If you forget the network, your device will use a different Wi-Fi address the next time it connects unless it’s been less than two weeks since the last time you chose to forget the network. To forget the network, go to Settings > Wi-Fi, and then tap the info (i) button next to the network and then tap Forget This Network. If you want to forget a network you are not currently using, go to Settings > Wi-Fi and tap Edit, then find the network, tap the info (i) button and tap Forget This Network.
Turn Private Wi-Fi Address on or off for a network
You can turn Private Wi-Fi Address off or on for each network. As I stated above, this is enabled for each network by default. You can, however, turn it off and on later if you prefer. You should note that keeping this feature on does not affect the Wi-Fi performance.
- On iPhone or iPad: Go to Settings > Wi-Fi. Then, tap Edit in the corner of the screen. Find the network whose setting you wish to change and tap the info (i) button next to it. Then, you can turn Private Wi-Fi Address off or on.
- On Apple Watch: Tap Settings > Wi-Fi > [the name of the network], then tap to turn Private Address off or on.