What is a private MAC address (WiFi) on iOS and how to use it

Starting with iOS 14, Apple has beefed up iPhone privacy with a lot of cool additions. Most of them — such as Application Tracking Transparency (ATT) — make constant headlines and have a significant impact on how apps perform.

But one feature that mostly flies under the radar is MAC randomization. Its built-in functionality goes a step further when it comes to helping you protect your anonymity from unscrupulous Wi-Fi networks.

If you want to learn the MAC randomization feature and how you can use it to set up or change your private MAC address on your iPhone, then keep reading.

What is the private MAC address on the iPhone?

Your iPhone has a hard-coded set of twelve hexadecimal characters called a MAC (or Media Access Control) address. It’s what helps the Wi-Fi network distinguish the device from other smartphones, laptops, and desktops around you. If you’re curious, here’s how the MAC address works in detail.

However, each MAC address is unique and that represents privacy implications. For example, a network operator might track you across locations when your iPhone joins (or polls) public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Tip: If you want to find the MAC address on your iPhone, start by going to Setting > Shared > About. Scroll down and you will see it listed below Wi-Fi Address.

That’s where MAC randomization comes into the picture. If you have iOS 14 or later installed, your iPhone now has the ability to change (or mask) your real MAC address on your iPhone with a random hexadecimal string.

Better yet, your iOS device generates separate (or private) MAC addresses for each network it joins. That makes it impossible for Wi-Fi providers to profile you based on your MAC address alone. MAC randomization is also enabled by default, so you don’t have to do anything to protect your privacy.

However, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to double-check the private MAC address for a particular Wi-Fi network, change it to something else, or remove it altogether.

How to find private MAC address on iPhone

Any iPhone running iOS 14 uses a separate MAC address for each Wi-Fi network it joins (or tries to join). If you want to double-check or reference it for network troubleshooting purposes, here’s how:

1. Open Setting app on your iPhone.

2. Press WIFI.

3. Click Information next to the Wi-Fi network. You will see the private MAC address listed next to Wi-Fi Address.

MAC address in the W-Fi Address field

Note: If the side switch Private address appears disabled, you’ll see your iPhone’s actual address instead. Rotate it and press Rejoin (if the device is actively connected to the network) to mask it with a private address.

How to change private MAC address on iPhone

Your iPhone uses separate MAC addresses for each Wi-Fi network to reduce the risk of being tracked. However, iOS continues to use the same address it originally assigned to the network even if you disconnect and rejoin. Forgetting the hotspot and rejoining also won’t regenerate another MAC address.

The only way to change the private MAC address for a Wi-Fi hotspot is to reset the network settings on your iPhone. That will also change the private address for any other hotspots you’ve previously joined.

If you want to continue resetting network settings, here are the steps you need to follow:

1. Open Setting app on your iPhone.

2. Press Shared.

3. Scroll down and press Reset.

4. Press Reset Network Settings.

5. Enter your device passcode and press Reset Network Settings again.

Network Settings Reset Button

Note: Resetting network settings clears all network-related settings and options on your iPhone. Then you have to manually reconnect to each Wi-Fi network.

How to turn off private MAC address on iPhone

You may encounter Wi-Fi networks that prevent you from joining unless you use your iPhone’s actual MAC address. Also, some operators may allow you to join but prevent you from accessing the internet. When that happens, you must manually deactivate the private MAC address for the network. Here’s how to do it:

1. Open Setting app on your iPhone and press WIFI.

2. Click Information icon next to the network.

3. Turn off the side switch Private address.

Private address is off

If you already join the network, press Rejoin to reconnect to it. If not, press Join this network.

Protect your privacy with MAC Randomization

Private MAC addresses are a great way to protect your privacy if you frequently switch between Wi-Fi networks. The best thing about MAC randomization is that your iPhone handles everything for you on its own. You may want to look up an individual address or turn it off if you’re having trouble connecting to a particular network.

However, be sure to keep an eye on future iOS updates as Apple may modify the way this feature works. For example, it can set MAC randomization to an optional setting, or configure private addresses to change on their own (maybe every 24 hours) for extra privacy.

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