To be honest, we are as perplexed as you are. Or at least would have been till the new Apple iOS 13 came around. As things stand with the latest operating system for the iPhones, Apple has made it mandatory for apps to get user consent for access to the device’s Bluetooth connectivity and data. By the time I got around to setting up my most used apps on the iPhone 11 Pro Max running iOS 13, it was a tad astonishing to see how many apps actually request for access to Bluetooth. What does ESPN, Amazon Shopping, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, YouTube Music and My Vodafone apps need access to Bluetooth on my iPhone for?
The need for this security measure which puts a lot of things in perspective came about after apps have pretty much misused our goodness by using the Bluetooth data on our phones to track our general location. Data, as they say, is the new gold. And any data, about which mall you visit and at what time, which shops you may have visited, which restaurants you frequent and so on. Incidentally, this setting and the data collected from the Bluetooth feed was totally separate from the Location Data access that you may or may not have allowed. Often blatant misuse of these settings is why Apple has brought this out in the open with iOS 13.
But that does leave a generous amount of confusion which a lot of users may not be able to decipher at one go. Chances are, many users would, in the heat of the moment when an app is installed and run for the first time, assume that these Bluetooth permissions are required to allow the app to connect with Bluetooth speakers and headphones, for instance. And thereby tap on “OK” instead of “Don’t Allow”. That will defeat the purpose. However, important to note that the Bluetooth permissions for connecting with wireless speakers, for instance, are handled through the Bluetooth menu in the Settings app. The way you have always paired your phone with Bluetooth speakers and headphones, for instance.
On my phone, it was a tad perplexing to see Amazon Shopping app want access to the Bluetooth data on my iPhone. What does it have to stream to my Bluetooth speaker or headphone? No, the answer isn’t as simple as that. The basic idea is to have a general clue or your whereabouts and potential shopping and recreational tendencies—all of which is data that can be used to serve you the potentially relevant advertising.
“The app may also use Bluetooth to know when you’re nearby,” is the most revealing part of the larger notification that Apple has integrated into iOS 13. That is a flag which is being raised by Apple, if any one of us are reading carefully. And this is a welcome measure. It is now up to the app developers to also be a little more forthcoming on why they use Bluetooth data on our phones, if at all they do, and how we stand to benefit from it as users. At the moment, I really don’t know how giving Bluetooth data to Amazon, ESPN and Vodafone (to name a few, I am sure there are many more) really makes my life better. Except that it takes a chunk out of my privacy. And I have denied the request.