Lately, my phone really wants me to turn on Bluetooth. I only have one Bluetooth gadget (an EU Boom 2 that I keep in my apartment) and, generally, I turn off the antenna when I do not use it actively, but lately it has reappeared when I'm not looking. It is a deliberate movement of Apple: in iOS 11, by deactivating Bluetooth from the control center, simply put the Bluetooth on time until the next morning instead of permanently deactivating it. Even when it's off, the antenna stays on, looking for new devices. You can open it completely when accessing the configuration menu, but as soon as you turn it on for any reason, the cycle will start again. The assumption is that, among the EarPods, the Pencil and the Apple HomePod, the average user has enough Bluetooth devices that a permanent shutdown switch simply does not make sense.
That logic may be true for many Apple users, but that's not how Bluetooth works for me. After enough creepy follow-up stories, I think of Bluetooth more as a responsibility than as a feature. Bluetooth beacons are everywhere, and while your antenna is live, there's a good chance that one of your applications is using them to pinpoint your location. The short range of the signal makes it ideal for identifying someone's location, which can be used to guide advertisements or even be presented as evidence by the police. This is true for all types of connectivity to some extent, from Wi-Fi to the cell tower itself. But I'm willing to keep Wi-Fi on because I need Wi-Fi. I do not need Bluetooth (at least not yet), and as long as I do not use it actively, I prefer to leave it. Thanks to a series of furtive design decisions, it is increasingly difficult to organize it.
I think Bluetooth is more a responsibility than a characteristic
Before blaming Apple, I should say that Android is just as bad. Even after disabling Bluetooth connections, most updated Android phones will keep your Bluetooth antenna active to collect location data. To disable it in a Google Pixel with the latest version of Android, you must explore five levels of depth: in Settings> Security and location> go to Privacy> Location> Scanning. I suspect that most Android users have no idea that the configuration exists. If an Android user turned off Bluetooth for privacy reasons, they may have shared data without knowing it.
This thirst for data is not just about greed. Maps and shared-trip services must be able to determine their location, and there is a real benefit for the consumer in making the data more accurate and consistent. But it is also valuable information, especially for companies like Google that already have an advertising network to feed it. Activating Bluetooth is a way to absorb more data and earn more money, something that companies surely knew when they decided to focus on location-dependent services and Bluetooth-dependent hardware.
Somehow, this is the same treatment that web services have offered since the beginning: a free product, paid for with a silent data collection. For now, we hardly think about it. But as the Bluetooth default values become more aggressive, that deal is getting worse and most users do not even realize what's happening. With so much information flowing through so many avenues, surely an accessible shutdown switch is not too much to ask.