family sharing feature

Apple’s New Family Sharing Plan And The Frustration With It

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I personally love Apple products. I have an iPhone, my kids have iPhones, my youngest has an iPod Touch, we’re all big fans. And at Yoursphere for Parents, the editorial team was really excited about the announcement of Family Sharing. I personally couldn’t wait to utilize the features I’d read about. I could see it making things a whole lot easier, more fun, more convenient for the family and less work for me. But after connecting half my family’s devices under Family Sharing, my enthusiasm quickly evaporated to be replaced with growing frustration.

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I was really looking forward to the fact that I would no longer have to log into iTunes to give my kids permission to download apps or make other purchases. With the different tastes in music in the household, I was looking forward to keeping teen music with the teens, and kid music with the kids. However, this is something that Apple has completely overlooked.

Apple introduced something they call Ask to Buy to ensure that you, as a parent, get the opportunity to be involved in, approve, or veto your kids’ purchases. The problem is, if you allow your child to download a given app or song, Apple doesn’t restrict who in your family has access to that content. Which is to say, if your teenager wants to download Facebook (which is rated 4+ and requires users to be 13 or older) and you approve of that download, there’s nothing to keep your ten year old child in elementary school from downloading the app from their older sibling.

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And while you may allow teens in the family to listen to songs with explicit lyrics (as demonstrated below) these songs show up in your ten-year-old’s music library even if you have set appropriate music restrictions on their device. They can’t download them if you’ve set the restrictions on their phone to not allow explicit music but they can still see them.

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And if you get a notification from your child asking to download something, you’d better not ignore it. We found that if you ignore the request because you’re busy or someone texts you, you can’t pull up the request again and your child can’t prompt you with more notifications later. You (or another member of your family) would have to download the song or app onto your own device so that your child could download it from you through sharing.

If this weren’t bad enough, buying something through Ask to Buy for the first time is its own headache. First your kid tries to buy something, then it asks them to enter their Apple ID password, then you have to enter your credit card security code, then it asks them to enter their password again, then it sends the Ask to Buy notification, and then, after you’ve given permission to download whatever they tried to buy, it asks them for a third time to enter their password, and then their purchase will finally start downloading. That is ridiculous! I understand that you want plenty of security when it comes to credit card information but this is overkill.

Shared contacts were also an issue. Because I consistently use my phone for work purposes, I have hundreds of contacts that my kids don’t need access to. So I was taken aback to find out that my work contacts were right there on my teenage son’s phone. It would certainly be unprofessional to have one of your children accidentally text or email your business associates. The next thing I knew, I was looking at a notification that my son left the family! He was so frustrated at having my contacts show up on his phone, and not being able to easily find his own contacts, that he left Family Sharing. You should be able to toggle off sharing contacts in Settings, but still, this was just another part of the headache that was setting up this service.

To add insult to injury, Family Sharing kicked off its debut with a bug! To keep people from using family sharing as a tool for piracy, Apple will lock you out of the family sharing plan for a full calendar year if you try to join a family more than twice. Users who rushed to start family sharing ran into a bug that blocked them from sharing and some of those users ended up accidentally locking themselves out of the plan for that full calendar year! Family sharing has been around for a little while now so it’s unlikely that this bug is still hanging around but if you do run into a problem, it would appear that it goes away soon after set up, so you may not want to immediately start trying to fix it yourself.

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The whole experience of trying to set this plan up has been unnecessarily difficult, a big waste of time, and a huge pain. Even when you’ve successfully set up Family Sharing, it leaves open a huge opportunity for your kids to access content not meant for their age range and make a mess of your contact list. If there’s enough of an age difference between your children that you would not want them to be sharing content with each other, I would not recommend enabling Family Sharing at all. Stick with safety-enabling their devices, setting appropriate age requirements and content filters, requiring your password for app downloads, and knowing who is in their contacts. You can read more about setting up parental controls on iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone) here.

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  • Great post! One “small” addition that I do not know how to solve. You mention “d if you get a notification from your child asking to download something, you’d better not ignore it. We found that if you ignore the request because you’re busy or someone texts you, you can’t pull up the request again and your child can’t prompt you with more notifications later. ”

    Although I ignored the request my son is not able to make any other in app purchase request again from that particular app until the request gets handled… however when you’re not able to find a location where all these requests or shown it’s hard to handle that the only option on right now is to uninstall and reinstall the particular application again but this results into a loss of the progress my son is made in a particular game which is truly bad.

  • Also frustrated with the fact that we can’t seem to use the iTunes gift cards !
    Also, I found this out accidentally, but if too much time goes by from when your child asks permission for something, if you swipe down from the top of the screen, all notifications show up there. I had been frustrated with that part too until I happened upon that.

  • I really find this poorly thought out. One of the reasons I wanted to do this for my kid is so that he could buy, redeem, and use itunes cards to buy apps; this actually works – itunes cards redeemed on his account are used to pay for things first, but it doesn’t show him his balance and will go right to my credit card once he uses up his credit. I can’t see the balance from my account, either, which is stupid, since I am paying for the damn thing. I think the adult members should be able to see all balances and activity on the accounts linked to them, or at least have the option to do so. The fact that the requests to buy only appear for a while and can’t seemingly be re-sent or re-accessed easily is a pain too, and if I am not on my macbook, I can’t get them at all, as my phone is an Android phone. Would be better if you got an email with an approval link (or that was an option). It’s better than no family plan, but not very well thought out from a parent’s perspective.

  • Also, family sharing won’t let you share your iTunes credit. So every purchase made by my children goes right to the credit card ignoring the $$ in the iTunes account entirely. Sigh. Apple says that there is no way to option out of this. Wouldn’t it be great if I could say when I approve a purchase where I’d like the $$ to come from?

  • Thank you for the information. Another problem is that Family Share won’t let you use a PayPal account although I have been using one on my iTunes for years. I couldn’t find an answer as to why.

  • Great info – I haven’t set it up yet because our current system works for my family of three. I might use it we had anyone under thirteen who didn’t already have an Apple ID. Also it won’t work fully on a device running iOS7, and some devices are too old to upgrade to iOS8. That’s too bad because it might be some of the younger kids who inherit an unused iPhone 4 to use as an iPod! Thanks for the thorough overview.

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