Why iPhone and iPad Apps Are Asking to Use Bluetooth

iPhone displaying a configuration menu with the Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Mobile data and Battery options.Aleksey Khilko / Shutterstock.com

If you have installed iOS 13 on your iPhone, you have probably noticed that many apps suddenly ask for permission to use your Bluetooth hardware. The same change will happen on iPad with the iPadOS update. Here's what's going on.

Applications could previously use Bluetooth without asking

These messages are new in iOS 13. Before this update, the applications on your iPhone or iPad could use Bluetooth as they saw fit. As long as you had Bluetooth enabled, apps can use it without asking.

Now Bluetooth is more like other sensitive data on your phone. There is a authorization which controls whether applications can access it. Just as an application must ask before getting your location via GPS or accessing your contacts, it must ask before touching the Bluetooth radio.

In other words, these apps all accessed Bluetooth from your iPhone or iPad before. Now they have to ask first – and you suddenly see them asking for the first time.

RELATED: The best new features in iOS 13, available now

Why did Apple make the change?

Apple has made this change for privacy reasons. Bluetooth is not only intended for connection to external devices such as wireless headphones, keyboards and mouses. It has become more and more common for stores, malls and other public places to configure Bluetooth “tracking tags”. are in this store.

At WWDC 2019, Craig Federighi of Apple told me Apple would "close the door on this abuse" of Bluetooth to prevent apps from following you without your permission. That's what iOS 13 does.

Before iOS 13, there was no way to tell if an app was using Bluetooth or to stop it beyond turning off Bluetooth on your device. Now an application has to ask if it wants to use Bluetooth and you can make a decision.

Why do apps need or want Bluetooth?

Fitbit Bluetooth request message on an iPhone.

Apps don't just use Bluetooth to track your location. And, even if an app tracks your location, it can do so for a useful reason. For example, the Target app uses bluetooth tags to determine your location in its stores. The app can give you instructions in the store and guide you to the products on the shelves.

Other apps will require Bluetooth access to pair with accessories. For example, the Fitbit app needs Bluetooth to communicate with Fitbit exercise trackers.

Developers can provide a message explaining why their application is requesting Bluetooth access. For example, the Fitbit app says, "Fitbit needs to connect to your tracker to track your exercise."

If the developer of an app does not provide a custom message, you will simply see a message saying, "This will allow (this app) to search for and connect to Bluetooth accessories. This app can also use Bluetooth to know when you are nearby. "

Should you allow or deny Bluetooth for an application?

Generic Bluetooth authorization request message from Anova app on iOS 13.

The decision to allow or deny Bluetooth for an app depends on you, how you use it, and how much you trust that app. It’s like giving location or other permissions to an app.

If an app needs Bluetooth to work with a wireless accessory, this feature won't work if you don't turn on Bluetooth. If an app like Target uses Bluetooth to provide interior routes, they won't work if Bluetooth is turned off. But, if an app seems to have no valid reason to ask for Bluetooth, you can just say no.

As with other types of privacy permissions on Apple's iOS, you can change your mind later by visiting the Settings app.

How to enable or disable Bluetooth for an application

Head to Settings> Privacy> Bluetooth to change whether an app can use Bluetooth or not. You will see a list of apps that have requested Bluetooth access from your iPhone or iPad. Toggle the toggle of an app to turn Bluetooth on or off for it.

View and control which applications can use Bluetooth on an iPhone or iPad.

You can also open the Settings app and scroll down until you see an alphabetical list of all of your installed apps. Tap an app in the list to view its permissions. Activate or deactivate the "Bluetooth sharing" authorization to allow or deny access to Bluetooth for this application.

Control of the Bluetooth settings of an individual application on an iPhone.

Annoying prompts now for privacy later

Bluetooth becomes yet another authorization on Apple's iOS operating system. Of course, that means more dialogs to use. But it also means more control over your privacy and more power over what apps can do.

Since the release of iOS 13, many applications have been asking for Bluetooth without really explaining what it is for. Application developers will need to think of ways to better explain these Bluetooth requests to their users. And, if an app uses Bluetooth only to track users without any benefit to them, the developer of that app will have to wonder if the negative RP is really worth asking for Bluetooth permissions.

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