Here’s why so many apps are asking to use Bluetooth on iOS 13

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple’s new iOS 13 update adds a new privacy measure that requires apps to get your consent in order to use your device’s Bluetooth. After installing the latest version of iOS, trust me when I say you’ll be surprised by the number of apps asking for Bluetooth permission the next time you open them. Some might seem very strange (like Dunkin’ Donuts in my case), but others probably won’t make you think twice about giving the thumbs-up.

The reason Apple implemented this is because Bluetooth has enabled companies to sneakily track your location over Bluetooth by using beacons in stores, shopping malls, and even on popular city streets if they’re placed within range of a place you’d walk by.

This is entirely separate from your iPhone’s location privacy settings, which makes it seem all the more underhanded. A beacon is very easily able to detect your device’s Bluetooth chip and log that with a retailer or some other app on your phone. So getting more strict about Bluetooth is a good move by Apple to prevent unwanted tracking of its customers.

Similarly, the company is also getting even more transparent about location, showing you on a map how often and where apps have recorded your position. This prompt is much easier to understand, and will probably startle people into slimming down the list of apps that can monitor where they are. As it should!

But there’s more room for confusion around the Bluetooth prompt.

At the most basic level, I think some iPhone owners are going to wonder and maybe even assume that they must grant Bluetooth permission for music and other media apps to continue working with their Bluetooth earbuds, headphones, or speakers. It’s a reasonable question when you see that an app “would like to use Bluetooth.” (To be clear, you don’t have to. Bluetooth audio is handled through system settings, is separate from apps, and will continue working for apps that you deny permission for.)

You’ll see a Bluetooth request from stores and even fast food chains that might utilize beacons for in-store promotions or to help you find what you’re looking for in the right aisle. Other common cases include companion apps for your fitness tracker, Bluetooth headphones, or apps from camera companies. (Most recent cameras support syncing photos over Bluetooth.)

Apps that support Google’s Chromecast streaming platform often ask for Bluetooth access as well. While Chromecast streams content over Wi-Fi, the platform has a “guest mode” that makes it convenient for visitors to play videos or audio on your TV without having to know your home network password. But to find nearby Chromecasts for guest mode, these apps use Bluetooth. Thus the permission prompt. Google is now letting developers integrate Chromecast without guest mode to avoid the Bluetooth request altogether if they choose.

But the key for all app developers is to be direct about why they’re requesting Bluetooth access. Apple’s generic message is far too vague and leaves plenty of uncertainty around exactly what it is you’re giving consent to. Here’s Sling TV succeeding at being clear:

Fitbit also nails it:

ESPN, meanwhile, just sticks with the default notification, and that was enough to set off alarms for Nilay. (Again, in this case it was because of the app’s Chromecast support.)

As more and more apps are updated, hopefully their wording around Bluetooth won’t leave any room for confusion. For now, if you see a Bluetooth request that seems unusual, you might want to just pick “don’t allow.” If a feature in that app stops working soon afterward, you’ll know why and can go into settings and enable Bluetooth access.

Comments

The worst part of this is that apps will look for "legitimate" cover reasons to continue using bluetooth for reasons we don’t want them to. Like you gotta turn it on to get a free Big Mac and then they hope you are too lazy to turn it off.

Apple are guilty of this themselves with location services.

I enable location services so I can use Find My Phone or to ensure the compass works, then they start using my phones location for their routing and traffic (even though I don’t use Apple Maps) or serving me location based ads.

Just like Apple require each app to ask for permission individually, they also need their "system services" to ask for permission individually.

eh, there is quite a bit of granular control over location tracking in system services. I’d love to have that many line item options for every app

Agree almost 100%.

I like the ability to turn each feature on/off. Apple got that right.

I don’t like that they enable all of these features by default along with core system features when someone sets up a new iPhone.

I would also argue that tracking my location to deliver me ads, improve Apples traffic data or record which merchants I buy from isn’t a "system service".

I don’t like that they enable all of these features by default along with core system features when someone sets up a new iPhone.

That not true. When you set up a new iPhone, it asks for your permission.

I would also argue that tracking my location to deliver me ads, improve Apples traffic data or record which merchants I buy from isn’t a "system service".

That’s also 2/3 wrong. Apple doesn’t track your location to deliver you ads, and it doesn’t record which merchants you buy from. As an "iPhone user" You seem like you seem extremely unaware of your phone experience. Are you just uninformed, or do you make up this shit because you like to spread misinformation?

That not true. When you set up a new iPhone, it asks for your permission.

It doesn’t give you the option to opt out of location tracking for ads, traffic etc

Apple doesn’t track your location to deliver you ads, and it doesn’t record which merchants you buy from.

That’s nice to know! Maybe you should tell Apple that?

Location-Based Apple Ads — Your iPhone will send your location, including its travel speed and direction, to Apple in order to provide you with geographically relevant ads on Apple News and in the App Store.
Apple Pay Merchant Identification: Your iPhone will use your current location to help provide more accurate merchant names when you use your physical Apple Card.

Apple are also using my phone to build a database of Wi-Fi access points and cell towers linked to GPS co-ordinates. I’m not even sure how to opt out of that one.

Thank you this has annoyed me for quite some time, to the point I turn it off regularly but turn it back on when I’m starting from regular routine and I could potentially lose my phone.

you can actually turn all that off, they are the fact that you can turn off a ridiculous amount of system services and fine tune them is a good thing, it’s funny that you are trying to spin it here.

Your preferences even hold over from generations of iOS.

google will never allow you that control. Especially over ad based tracking. hurts the bottom line.

The point isn’t that you can turn it off, it’s that it shouldn’t be enabled by default in the first place.

If Apple want to access my location to serve location-based ads, update their traffic data and track which merchants I’m spending money at then they should ask first.

Instead they slyly enable them when I enable access for core-system features like emergency dialing.

ok, so you must really have issues with the fact that this stuff happens on your android that you actually use every day, and you have no toggles to even stop it.

and they enable it with iCloud, not when you enable any specific features, it’s not sly at all. typical from you tho, you don’t even use the platform, and here’s your faux outrage, for something that you take part in far more than the users you’re complaining about, so excuse my yawning.

You’re not starting from a good position if your only argument is that if Android does it I shouldn’t complain about Apple doing it.

Sent from my iPhone

Yet you’re not willing to listen to the many who are repeatedly telling you that sure, OK fine, Apple could be putting those settings to Deny by default.

But you do have control over them as the end user.

I don’t think you ever looked at what iOS was asking you when you set it up.
Yes, it asks you if you would like to enable location services.

I don’t think you ever looked at what iOS was asking you when you set it up.

Well… I didn’t read the EULA before I agreed to it. Guilty as charged.

I’m sure it’s all in there too. Apple have good lawyers.

So why do you badmouth Apple?!

It isn’t enabled by default. Location services is part of the setup process, and it’s very clear about that – it’s a dedicated screen, not an insignificant looking tick box. After that, you can define it on a very granular level in the settings. It isn’t slyly enabled – they just aren’t going to server you 75 popups when you’re setting up your phone.

It isn’t enabled by default

Apple tied critical system features like emergency dialling and Find my Phone to the same tick box that allows them to track my location 24/7 so they can serve me ads.

I declined the option to "improve maps" during setup, yet Apple still decided to track me to improve their "routing and traffic".

The iOS 13 update automatically enabled an option that allows Apple to track which merchants I make purchases from. That’s creepy as hell

they just aren’t going to server you 75 popups

That is exactly what they should do.

How Apple is handing location and Bluetooth access for apps is on the right path. I agree with it 100%. However. They need to follow the same rules.

There is no reason to bury "Apple Pay Merchant Identification" inside system services. Apple should ask the first time they want to track my location when I use Apple Pay.

You really don’t know how to use your phone, dude (or you are just trolling, in hope that nobody reacts)…

Apple tied critical system features like emergency dialling and Find my Phone to the same tick box that allows them to track my location 24/7 so they can serve me ads.
Apple still decided to track me to improve their "routing and traffic".
There is no reason to bury "Apple Pay Merchant Identification" inside system services.

No sorry, you’re wrong. These things are not all tied together. Apple gives you the granular control you are looking for in the settings. And it is not enabled by default.

Serving a tick box for every single setting during setup is user hostile and means users will just get frustrated and tap yes as quickly as they can to get through it, thus making everything less secure.

You can control everything about Apple’s usage in privacy/location settings…

I was waiting to see how a fandroids would look to spin this awesome functionality.

Here it is folks. C- for effort.

That last a dumb take.

Why would a "fandroid" care how Apple handles their users privacy?

Thank you for sharing your data about the traffic jam you’re stuck in so I can re-route around it.

At the most basic level, I think some iPhone owners are going to wonder and maybe even assume that they must grant Bluetooth permission for music and other media apps to continue working with their Bluetooth earbuds, headphones, or speakers. It’s a reasonable question when you see that an app "would like to use Bluetooth." (To be clear, you don’t have to. Bluetooth audio is handled through system settings, is separate from apps, and will continue working for apps that you deny permission for.)

That’s a good tip there. I would have definitely given things like music services access.

This was a great article. Informative, to the point, and mostly unbiased. More of this and less claim chowder, please.

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