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How to stop your Windows 10 Mobile phone's location from being tracked through Wi-Fi

Microsoft is including many new features in Windows 10 Mobile, and it's also enhancing various aspects of security. One of this changes is happening on Wi-Fi networks.

In previous versions of the mobile operating system, even though your phone was reasonably protected, some places such as shopping malls, supermarkets, and public places could easily track your movements whenever your phone was nearby or connected to their Wi-Fi networks. That is something that many people who take security very seriously can consider a privacy concern.

This tracking happens because whenever your phone is not connected to a Wi-Fi network, it will continue to send out requests to try to connect to any available wireless network that is located near you. These signal-requests include your device unique hardware identifier, which we know as a MAC address.

In a similar fashion, once your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, you phone unique hardware (MAC) address also gets logged into the network. Then this piece of information can sometimes be used by third-parties to track your movements when you're in the area. Large venues often have multiple wireless routers, and as you pass from one to another, they can track your location as you move.

To enhance your privacy, on supported phones like the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, Windows 10 Mobile offers a feature called Random hardware addresses. As the name implies, it is a feature that randomly generates hardware addresses to make it harder for third-parties to track your phone location when it's nearby or connected to a Wi-Fi network.

This feature is not enabled by default on supported phones. As such, if you want to enhance further your Wi-Fi security when you roam throughout different wireless networks, in this guide for beginners, we'll show you the steps to enable Random hardware addresses feature in Windows 10 Mobile.

Quick Tip: Keep in mind that this feature only works effectively on new connections.

Enabling Random hardware addresses for all Wi-Fi networks

  1. While in the Start screen, swipe left to bring All apps, then search for and open the Settings app, and tap on Network & wireless.

  1. Next, tap on Wi-Fi.

  1. Scroll down and tap the Manage button.

  1. On Manage, make sure to toggle the Use random hardware addresses pill switch to the On position to enable the feature.

Enabling Random hardware addresses only on particular Wi-Fi networks

Also, you can control this feature globally, as shown in the steps above, or you can enable "Random hardware addresses" on specific networks, as you can see in the steps below:

  1. While on Network & wireless in the Settings app, tap on Wi-Fi.

  1. Tap on the network you're connected on, scroll down, and select one of the three options: On, Off, or Change daily.

  1. Once you have chosen your option, go back to Wi-Fi, tap and hold the wireless network you're connected to, tap Delete.

  1. Now you need to reconnect your phone to the wireless network for the new settings to take effect. From the Available Wi-Fi networks list in the Wi-Fi settings, tap the name of the network you deleted, and enter the corresponding password to connect and complete the process.

This feature not only generates random MAC addresses, but it will also hide your device name while connected to a Wi-Fi network by using the random hardware address as the name.

It's also important to note that even though this is a good feature to add an extra layer of security to your phone, you may find different scenarios where you may not want to use this feature. For example, on your home network where it's not necessary and at you work, as IT administrators need to be able to track devices to keep the network secure and in compliance with the company's policies.

More resources

If you want more tips and tricks, and you want to stay informed on everything around Windows 10 Mobile, you can visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

44 Comments
  • Not in my Windows Insider Lumia 640.
  • "To enhance your privacy, on supported phones like the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL, Windows 10 Mobile offers a feature called Random hardware addresses. "
  • Reading is hard.
  • It says supported hardware. I think someone saying the 640 doesnt offer it is valuable to the people browsing the comments. I have a 640 and checked also and nothing. I dont think its a lack of reading but a curiousity of what hardware people have are able to do this. Most people, myself included, dont know what hardware it would take to make this possible, or if it can be added through a software or firmware update. I guess the only thing I can add to this is simply, compassion is hard.
  • 6 paragraphs of introduction, explaining the title, then a definition of the phones (not hardware) on which you can perform the technique. It's not rocket surgery. People just skim read nowadays because they are too lazy or too eager to find an answer by asking. Everything has to be instant these days for you kids.
  • i am 18 and i dont think i am the only 18 guy who read this whole article before looking on the comments it cant be only me xD
  • 22 years, and i'm with you. :P Posted via the Windows Central App for Android because the one on my Lumia 550 sucks! :)
  • Rocket surgery? That's new...
  • The "like" in the post actually made me check my L920 (unfortunately, it isn't supported) and it's not about reading or skimming the article. I don't know why y'all had to slam the first commenter when he said his 640 wasn't supported. The way I see it, he just saved other 640 owners the trouble of having to check. Just like I did with my 920 :-)
  • I guess the Icon isn't supported :(
  • Read the article first..clearly mentioned supported 950 and 950xl..
  • The 'like" in "supported phones like 950 and 950XL" emplies there are more devices that support this and the 950 and 950 are just an example of such devices.
  • Like the lumia 550 or the still to come 650 for example?
  • It may be hardware dependent otherwise there is no point in preventing other devices from using it.
  • Not to me. That sentence says "supported phones" then lists them. If it said "e.g. the 950 and 950XL", then it would imply other models, as these are given as examples.
  • The article is clearly unclear...
  • Thank you for this! The "like" actually made me check my L920 (unfortunately, it isn't supported)
  • I never knew about this before [being tracked] before and would certainly explain why it's increasingly common for shopping centres & supermarkets (such as Tesco) to offer free WiFi.
    Ignoring the security concern it certainly is clever to understand people's shopping habits better & more accurately, and certainly could add to interesting data gathering.
  • For the second part of the article that talks about editing a network that is already setup on the phone I would assume that the part that says "This setting applies only to this network and any change will take effect the next time you connect." would mean that you do not have to delete the network (step 3) and then set it back up (step 4).
  • Correct. No need to delete and add again. I had set this up before but didnt know you could edit it on exisitng networks. Nice feature. FWIIW this is one feature apple had first.
  • I didn't even know this feature was in there! I keep WiFi sense off because I don't want to connect to every network but I'll enable this to add an extra layer of security on top.
  • Not sure why they don't simply offer the option to turn off the WiFi radio when outside of a geofence.  Why continuously broadcast connection attempts?  That is how the pinapple device intercepts an becomes man-in-the-middle.  It's not rocket science.  Why do none of the hardware vendors care about OUR security??? I want to connect at work and at home and perhaps my local hangout.  That's all.  The phone knows when I am near one of those.  When I am near, go ahead and connect.  When I am not near, stop broadcasting that you are looking for them.  That is how pinapple devices intercept your ping and reply with "I am the SSID for which you are looking" and become man-in-the-middle. If Microsoft wants to do something that NO other vendor does and GAIN market share, offer the geofenced WiFi.  So simple.
  • 0.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% of people care about that. Besides, you can just turn Wifi off through the pull down menu
  • You can do this very easily on any Android phone using the Llama app.  So far from a new feature, this would be Windows playing catch-up as usual.
  • You can do it by changing your your Wi-Fi setting to Turn on near my favourite places.
  • I'm not sure what the privacy concern is. Why would you care if the MAC address of your phone was logged by the router? So the mall owner can see that an Nokia smart phone was in the west end of the shopping center, and the later that same phone was carried to the east end of the shopping center. That tells them nothing about who's phone it is , the shopper's demographics, nor what stores they visited.
  • I manage the WiFi network at my son's school and I can tell pretty precisely which classroom a device is in based on what access point it is connecting. Any well designed wireless network can do this. That said I'm with you that I don't really care if they know what stores my phone goes into. If anything it can actually help improve the mall (and my shopping experience) if they can use the info to better design the flow based on knowing what types of stores people go into based on where they've been.
  • Keep wifi turned off unless connecting to a trusted network.
  • How about changing the damn title to "950 and 950xl" models. WTH?
  • That's a pretty cool feature, although my wifi is only turned on when I'm using it, which is almost never. I suppose there must be an infinitesimal chance of MAC address conflicts if everyone's phones are generating their own.
  • Precisely.  Don't want to be tracked?  Don't use Wifi!  I only use Wifi at home.
  • Thanks for the tip! I had no idea this was in there and will be using it on my 950 in the future(when MS finally fixes the damn battery draining issue)
  • I don't get it. I could care less if they were tracking my movements. I guess if I was a thief then I would mind, but im sot, so they can track me all they want.
  • Not the point, your carrier is tracking you every day, they know where you are. What you should worry about it's any chain store (Starbucks) have your MAC address on their database ( or whoever is managing it) knows your device habit better than you do, in other word the person carrying it. Now when you agree to their terms and conditions to access the " free wifi " with your MAC address it's not free anymore. And someone gets to know you better than yourself, wake up from your dream world.
  • Don't believe it folks! MS is streaming your location straight to the NSA! Kidding.
  • MS just beats a lot of big cats to something huge, it's like I can seeing the door of heaven opening with light and music. That's such a clever feature, it's a humongous step toward privacy. It's gonna be useful for those free wifi everywhere.
  • Niice. What about setting a static IP address?
  • If you're setting up a static address then it's assumed it's either Your network or a trusted network. Therefore there would be no need to hide your device's actual MAC address by changing it everytime you reconnect. MAC addresses are different from IP addresses. MAC addresses are hard coded into devices by their manufacturer. There's not often a reason to change a MAC address. In the name of privacy when on open/free networks, there is most definitely reason! This is most definitely a valuable feature.
  • @KMF79. I'm aware. I used to have a multi router (with wds + ethernet back bone) and switch set up. My 920 had issues connected so I simplified it to a linear network.
    I as asking specifically can we set up static ip's or not in WM10 now. As some wp8.x models have it and some don't. Furthermore static ip's are helpful for troubleshooting dhcp faults, which generally occurs when the wireless or ethernet port on a router is dying / faulty hence why you get the random 169.xxx.xxx.xxx address along with some random gateway address. So yes, it's much simpler to assign a static ip on the device to troubleshoot. Furthermore assigning a static ip to the device mac address is not full proof. I had two routers that were unable to retain any data after changes were made (tenda and Hercules were the brands, cant recall the exact model numbers as this was a few years back).
  • Why use Google DNS when you can use OpenDNS? Shm.
  • Why would you want to now that crisco has their hollyer then thou grip on them
  • Thanks for this info. Set my device accordingly.
  • Nice idea but I have a hard enough time getting my phone to connect to hotspots as is.
    Yeah for routers that offer prioritization this feature would wreak havoc making this type of qos useless
  • Super useful information! ​Thanks WindowsCentral :D!