It is against this backdrop that many in the technological community are applauding the decision by Apple to tweak how the iPhone searches for wi-fi connections.
Through a simple software update, the company plans to undermine a widely deployed system that stores such as
Tracking shoppers is not the same as tracking terrorism suspects, but software developers increasingly appreciate that all digital surveillance relies on access to data created whenever humans and computers interact.
That has prompted a widespread rethinking of how computer systems are designed, with the goal of making data much harder for outsiders to vacuum up.
In the aftermath of
Other developers began looking to build entirely new communications systems that are decentralised, making them inherently resistant to mass surveillance.
"The solutions here are going to be technical," said
Apple plans to have iPhones and iPads send out random identification codes when they look for wi-fi signals, according to information sent to app developers.
Once this change takes effect, probably in September, it will defeat systems that rely on a single, distinctive wi-fi code to track |shoppers by their iPhones, monitoring where they move in a shop and when they return.
Other smartphones will still |be trackable through their wi-fi |signals.
Apple does have its own system for delivering location-based advertising to customers, called iBeacon, but it requires that users opt in by opening a store's app on their smartphones.
Services based on wi-fi codes, by contrast, can operate without consent or the knowledge of customers, even when they are not using their phones.
Privacy groups have been pushing for changes to wi-fi technology to make location tracking more difficult. They are also pushing for end-to-end encryption of e-mail, social media postings and video chat, and for tech companies and judges to treat surveillance requests from investigators more sceptically. -
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