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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.