Why iPhone and iPad Apps Are Asking to Use Bluetooth

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

If you have installed iOS 13 on your iPhone, you've probably noticed that many applications suddenly ask for permission to use your Bluetooth hardware. The same change will happen on the iPad with the iPadOS update. This is what happens.

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 pleased. As long as you have Bluetooth enabled, applications can use it without asking.

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

In other words, these applications all previously accessed Bluetooth on your iPhone or iPad. Now, they must first ask, and you see them suddenly asking for the first time.

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Why did Apple make the change?

Apple made this change for reasons of confidentiality. Bluetooth is not limited to connecting to external devices such as wireless headphones, keyboards mouses. It has become increasingly common in stores, malls and other public places to set up Bluetooth "tracking tags". An app can communicate with them to determine your physical location, for example, by determining if you are in a store's in that store.

Apple's Craig Federighi at WWDC 2019 m said Apple would "close the door to this abuse" of Bluetooth to prevent applications from following you without your permission. That's what iOS 13 does.

Prior to iOS 13, there was no way of knowing if an app was using Bluetooth or stopping it beyond disabling Bluetooth on your device. Now an application needs to ask if it wants to use Bluetooth and you can make a decision.

Why do applications need or want Bluetooth?

Fitbit Bluetooth request message on an iPhone.

Apps do not use only Bluetooth to track your location. And, even if an application follows your position, it may do so for a useful reason. For example, the Target application uses Bluetooth tags to determine your location in its stores. The application can give you directions in the store and guide you to the products on the shelves.

Other applications will require Bluetooth access to pair accessories. For example, the Fitbit app needs Bluetooth to communicate with Fitbit Exercise Tracers.

Developers can send a message explaining why their app requests Bluetooth access. For example, the Fitbit app says, "Fitbit needs to connect to your follow up to track your exercise."

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

Do you have to allow or deny Bluetooth for an app?

Generic Bluetooth authorization request message from the Anova application on iOS 13.

Whether or not you need to allow or deny Bluetooth for an app depends on you, how you use it, and how much trust you have in this application. It's like giving the location or other permissions to an application.

If an application requires Bluetooth to work with a wireless accessory, this feature will not work if you do not turn on Bluetooth. If an application such as Target uses Bluetooth to provide indoor instructions, they will not work if Bluetooth is turned off. However, if an application does not seem to have a valid reason to ask for Bluetooth, you can simply refuse.

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

How to turn Bluetooth on or off for an app

Go to Settings> Privacy> Bluetooth to determine whether or not an app can use Bluetooth. The list of applications that have requested access to Bluetooth for your iPhone or iPad appears. Toggle the application to enable or disable Bluetooth.

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

You can also open the Settings application and scroll through the list to display an alphabetical list of all your installed apps. Tap an app in the list to view its permissions. Enable or disable the "Bluetooth Sharing" permission to allow or deny access to Bluetooth for this application.

Control Bluetooth settings from an individual application on an iPhone.

Annoying now invites for more intimacy later

Bluetooth becomes another permission on Apple's iOS operating system. Of course, this means more dialog boxes to exploit. But it also means more control over your privacy and more power over what applications can do.

At the release of iOS version 13, many applications require Bluetooth without explaining their function. Application developers will need to think of ways to better explain these Bluetooth requests to their users. In addition, if an application uses Bluetooth only to track its users without any benefit, the developer of this application will have to determine if the negative PR report is really worth asking for Bluetooth permissions.

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