EFF Criticizes 'Misleading' iOS 11 Wireless Settings

What do you expect to happen when you hit the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi buttons in the iOS 11 Control Center? If you've used previous versions of iOS, you probably think those buttons disable their respective wireless connections, like they did before. But that's not how things work in iOS 11, and now the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has criticized Apple for putting iPhone owners at risk with a misleading and uninformative design.

With iOS 11, these buttons only sort of disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Your phone will remain connected to Apple devices via Bluetooth, utilities like Handoff will continue to function, and location services will stay active. That means you aren't turning off these wireless connections so much as you're disabling them for non-Apple devices and services. This distinction isn't made clear in iOS; the visual indicators are the same as before.

Nor does the operating system make it clear that disabling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi via Control Center is a temporary measure. Apple explained in a support article that Wi-Fi will reactivate if:

You turn on Wi-Fi in Control Center.You connect to a Wi-Fi network in Settings > Wi-Fi.You walk or drive to a new location. It's 5 AM local time.You restart your device.

Bluetooth is the same, minus the reactivation when you leave your current location. Again, this isn't how these controls worked in previous versions of iOS, which actually disabled these connections until you reactivated them. Apple changed how a common setting works and didn't make those changes clear in iOS 11 itself—it explained things in a support article that the vast majority of iPhone owners are unlikely to read.

Here's what the EFF said about these changes:

In an attempt to keep you connected to Apple devices and services, iOS 11 compromises users' security. Such a loophole in connectivity can potentially leave users open to new attacks. Closing this loophole would not be a hard fix for Apple to make. At a bare minimum, Apple should make the Control Center toggles last until the user flips them back on, rather than overriding the user’s choice early the next morning. It's simply a question of communicating better to users, and giving them control and clarity when they want their settings off—not “off-ish.”

It's already hard enough to get people to care about their device's security. Changing a long-established behavior without notice and with the apparent goal of avoiding support tickets asking why their Apple Watch doesn't work with Bluetooth disabled probably won't help matters. This change benefits Apple, and it could make things easier for people who don't understand how these connections work, but it does so at the expense of people who expect turning a setting "off" to actually, well, turn it off.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • derekullo
    Why won't it read?

  • dark_lord69
    This just in...
    Apple users... can't figure out what the issue is when their bluetooth is disabled and none of their bluetooth stuff is working.
    This sounds like when I heard Gateway might add an "Any" key to the keyboard because they got too many calls asking where it was located. (Not joking)

    Bottom line is each company has to deal with customer ignorance. Some companies just have a lot more ... ignorant customers.

    I can think of MANY other companies that would have more tech savvy customers.

    So now Apple can expect complaints about "Why does my battery drain so fast? I DID turn off bluetooth and wifi... What do you mean turn them off again!?"
  • hannibal
    Yep... that is bad. I usually turn those of because I would like to save battery, but now it has been made really hard to do that...
    it is like, when i lock down my houses out Door, it does not actually lock down. It just look like it. Because it will be easier to walk in the house when the Door is not actually Locked when you come back home. Very convennient indeed!
  • popatim
    I spy, you spy, we all spy one everyone... I bet this doesn't work like that for senoir management at apple. Lmao
  • Lostinlodos
    Cry me a river. No really.
    Granted the changes should have been pointed out on the upgrade notices but nobody is going to die. If you want them off all the way turn them off in settings. The only thing I’ve used the dashboard for is flashlight and if I could make an icon for airplane mode only I’d delete, remove etc the dash entirely. It’s the only two buttons I’ve used and it’s excessively difficult to bring the dash up when an app or keyboard is on the screen anyway.
    You can use the partial disable in dash or the full turn off in settings. Chose your location. Move along now.
  • LeeRains
    I noticed this recently, and I think it’s kinda shady because it’s when you leave on BT and WiFi that stores, kiosks, et al. are able to track you, log you, and potentially spam you with location based ads.

    To me, I think this kind of tracking is creepy and invasive. Just by walking into a CostCo or Walmart, I don’t think I’m consenting to be precisely tracked, identified and logged.

    So now I don’t use the normal way of turning BT and WiFi off, I go into the settings and turn it off-off now. The EFF has a valid point, imho.
  • ledhead11
    There was a time when I could somewhat respect Apple products even if I didn't like the company.

    Between this and the numerous security flaws of late, I'm finding it less and less true.