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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Why iPhone and iPad Apps Are Asking to Use Bluetooth

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

If you’ve installed iOS 13 on your iPhone, you’ve probably noticed that many apps are suddenly asking for permission to use your Bluetooth hardware. The same change will arrive on iPads with the iPadOS update. Here’s what’s going on.

Apps Could Previously Use Bluetooth Without Asking

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

Now, Bluetooth is more like other sensitive data on your phone. There’s a permission that controls whether apps can access it. Just as an app has to ask before getting your location via GPS or accessing your contacts, it has to ask before tapping the Bluetooth radio.

In other words, these apps were all accessing your iPhone or iPad’s Bluetooth before. Now, they have to ask first—and you’re suddenly seeing them ask for the first time.

RELATED: The Best New Features in iOS 13, Available Now

Why Did Apple Make the Change?

Apple made this change for privacy reasons. Bluetooth isn’t just for connecting to external devices like wireless headphones, keyboards, and mice. It’s become increasingly common for stores, shopping malls, and other public locations to set up Bluetooth “tracking beacons.” An app could communicate with these to determine your physical location—for example, identifying if you’re in a retail store and where you are in that store.

At WWDC 2019, Apple’s Craig Federighi said Apple would be “shutting the door on that abuse” of Bluetooth to prevent apps from tracking you without your permission. That’s what iOS 13 is doing.

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

Why Do Apps Need or Want Bluetooth?

Fitbit's Bluetooth request message on an iPhone.

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