How to Disable Private Wi-Fi MAC Addresses on iPhone and iPad

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Apple changed the way the iPhone and iPad connect to Wi-Fi networks starting in the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates. If this causes issues with a Wi-Fi network, you can disable it for that network. Here’s how.

How Private Wi-Fi Addresses Work

When an iPhone, iPad, or any other WI-Fi enabled device connects to a Wi-Fi network, it sends a unique media access control (MAC) address. This identifies the device to the network.

Traditionally, the MAC address was set at the hardware level and was the same for the lifetime of the device. Every network you connect to received the same MAC address from your device. You could change your MAC address manually on some devices, but few people did.

It’s easy to see how this feature could lead to tracking: If you move around a city connecting to different public Wi-Fi access points in coffee shops, airports, and libraries, your device would use the same MAC address to connect to each, enabling an organization operating the Wi-Fi hotspots to track your location movements and network activity over time.

With private Wi-Fi addresses, the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch will now provide a different MAC address for each Wi-Fi network they connect to. Each Wi-Fi network you connect to receives a different own MAC address from your device. Your Wi-Fi sessions from different Wi-Fi networks can’t be so easily linked to each other anymore.

How Private Wi-Fi Can Cause Problems

Most of the time, you won’t notice a problem with private WI-Fi addresses. This option is enabled by default and will “just work.” In some cases, it will cause problems with certain networks.

For example, someone might have set up a Wi-Fi network to use MAC address filtering, only allowing certain devices to connect. Your organization might ask you to disable private Wi-Fi addresses in this situation. At home, you might have set up parental controls for each device on your Wi-Fi network—a feature that uses MAC addresses to identify and apply restrictions to devices.

If you’re ever having trouble connecting to or accessing the internet on a Wi-Fi network, disabling this option is a fine troubleshooting step that will resolve your problem in some situations.

How to Disable Private Addresses for a Wi-Fi Network

The “Private Address” option is controlled separately for each Wi-Fi network. We don’t recommend disabling it for a network unless you need to do so (or are troubleshooting a problem.)

To find this option, head to Settings > Wi-Fi on your iPhone or iPad. Locate the Wi-Fi network you want to change this option for—it’ll be at the top of the screen if you’re currently connected to it. Tap the “i” icon at the right side of the Wi-Fi network name.

Disable the “Private Address” option by tapping the switch to its right.

The “Wi-Fi Address” option here shows you the private MAC address being used on that specific network, just in case you need it—to configure something on a router, for example.

You’ll be prompted to rejoin the network if you’re already connected. Tap “Rejoin” and your iPhone or iPad will rejoin with its normal MAC address.

On an Apple Watch, the process is the same—head to Settings > Wi-Fi, tap the name of the network you’ve joined (or swipe left on a network and tap the “…” button if you’re not already connected to it), and disable the “Private Address” slider.

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