New Chromebook privacy feature already common to current macOS and Windows PCs

The ability to randomize the hardware address of a Wi-Fi radio has been available on most computers for years. This feature increases the privacy of user data by replacing the unique hardware identifier of your wireless radio with a random identifier. As a result, it is much more difficult for a network service to create a user profile of your browsing habits that provides some of the benefits of a VPN, but not all. Unfortunately, Chrome OS does not supports this feature. But that’s in the works: This new Chromebook privacy feature will put Chrome OS on par with other desktop platforms.

If none of that makes sense as to why you would want this Chromebook privacy feature, here’s a great, high-level explanation. It’s actually from Google because it added MAC hardware randomization to Android there are some versions:

MAC addresses are used by devices when connecting to a Wi-Fi network or an access point. Since these MAC addresses are transmitted without encryption, they can be captured and used to potentially track a user’s location. Historically, devices have used the factory MAC address to associate with a Wi-Fi network. The factory MAC address is globally unique and static, allowing the device to be individually tracked and identified. The MAC randomization feature increases user privacy by using a random MAC address when connecting to a Wi-Fi network.

Currently, every time you connect your Chromebook to a wireless network, your device shares the same MAC address with that network. It’s like wearing a name tag.

So if you often use the same network, that network can identify you and your web browsing habits. It might not recognize you by name unless you connect to that network, of course. But it does not matter. He knows your Chromebook, in a way. And it can create a user profile based on the data sent to and from your Chromebook.

The Chromium development team worked on a multi-part project to add randomization of MAC addresses to mitigate this and boost your users’ privacy on a Chromebook.

There’s a bunch of code going on for you to check out, but the easiest is this: Once implemented in Chrome OS, users can enable MAC address randomization with an experimental flag.

At the moment, this flag should be at chrome://flags#mac-address-randomization. Don’t bother looking for it in Chrome OS now, because I don’t think it’s been added yet; I don’t see it in the Chrome OS 97 development channel, for example.

Note that this feature will not be available on corporate managed networks. This is probably because businesses like to make sure they know everything about how their network resources are being used.

And while you can use this Chromebook privacy feature on a home network, it won’t give you too much extra privacy for your data. Traveling on public Wi-Fi networks? This is where you get the most bang for your buck here.

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