Panic over the Bluetooth and WiFi Buttons in iOS 11

iOS 11 came out yesterday. iOS 11 release day is an exciting occasion for many people. Hardcore users anxiously await 10:00 AM Pacific Time after which they can download and install the update. Developers push updated versions of their apps to take advantage of new features available to iPhone and iPad users. (The feature that developers seemed most excited to utilize was drag-and-drop.) And then, the tech press gets crazy trying to find something wrong so they can write headline-grabbing warnings about some supposedly fatal flaw in the operating system.

One such iOS 11 “flaw” that has been getting some panicked attention is the Bluetooth and WiFi buttons in Control Center. In previous versions of iOS, turning off either of these radios from Control Center completely disabled these radios. However, in iOS 11, they remain active to allow connections with Apple devices and services, such as “AirDrop, AirPlay, Apple Pencil, Apple Watch, Location Services, and other features.” You can see that the Bluetooth button in Control Center does not disable Bluetooth in Settings in this video.

Writing for VICE Motherboard, Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai notes that turning off WiFi or Bluetooth has a lot of utility for security reasons because it “reduces your exposure to potential attacks.” The new Bluetooth and WiFi buttons in Control Center interface will not quarantine you from such an attack.

However, none of these pieces mention that you can disable WiFi and Bluetooth with one tap: you can activate Airplane Mode.

I tested this myself when I saw that AirDrop still works when I turn off Bluetooth and WiFi in Control Center. However, AirDrop didn’t work after I turned on Airplane Mode from that Control Center button.

While turning off WiFi and Bluetooth might seem like a way to disable to radios in your phone there are at least two others that are still running, independent of WiFi or Bluetooth:

  1. Cellular radios. You can still connect to your cellular network without WiFi or Bluetooth and those radios still operate.
  2. GPS. I learned this when I turned off Bluetooth and WiFI on an airplane, and a photo I snapped while airborne had geolocation data. Apparently, sitting near the window was enough to receive a GPS signal.

As with Bluetooth and WiFi, you can disable these radios with a single tap of the Airplane Mode icon.

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