Security firm AVG on Tuesday updated its PrivacyFix security app for Android devices to include mobile location tracking features that would prevent stores and advertisers to track users by monitoring their Wi-Fi connectivity habits. According to Forbes, the app, which also allows users to manage privacy settings across websites, will henceforward block Android devices from transmitting their MAC address when their owners are out and about, by blocking Wi-Fi access to untrusted hotspots.
The feature will effectively turn off the Wi-Fi of Android devices, thus preventing third-parties from collecting location data. AVG’s vice president of privacy products believes that this kind of tracking should be turned off until retailers adopt “meaningful standards” of transparency and offer users clear choices of opting out from these programs. “Because MAC addresses also are routinely collected in apps, your location history can potentially be matched with other information about you, including your identity,” Brock also said. A welcomed side-effect of shutting down the Wi-Fi temporarily is increased battery life.
Coincidentally, Apple has just rolled out an iBeacons feature in its retail stores that allows devices to communicate with each other within a certain perimeter. Thus, Apple can customize shopping experiences for buyers that frequently visit retail stores by sending special offers and notifications directly to their iOS devices inside an app. However, AVG’s PrivacyFix app is not available on iOS, therefore it wouldn’t work against iBeacons use. In the future, more companies are expected to deploy iBeacons in their own retail stores for similar marketing purposes, but also other iBeacons-like solutions from the competition – Qualcomm on Monday announced an iBeacon competitor of its own called Gimbal.
On a different note, AVG’s app won’t be able to block a different kind of location tracking, the one performed by intelligence agencies tapping into carriers’ resources. Recently, a report revealed that the NSA collects large amounts of location data around the world, to potentially use against certain threats and targets.