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Family Sharing is convenient, but comes with its own risks

Glenn Fleishman | Dec. 19, 2014
No Mac is an island, and every iPad is part of the main. But Apple has, for many years, had trouble with letting a group of allied people--let's call them a "family"--make best used of shared devices and shared digital purchases. Family Sharing is the latest attempt by Apple to facilitate families' sharing (if not caring).

No Mac is an island, and every iPad is part of the main. But Apple has, for many years, had trouble with letting a group of allied people — let's call them a "family" — make best used of shared devices and shared digital purchases. Family Sharing is the latest attempt by Apple to facilitate families' sharing (if not caring).

It comes with a hidden curse, though: Families that share together can have all their devices wiped together and all track each other's locations, regardless of one's age. One could argue these are good things when you've chosen to opt into Family Sharing and location sharing. But, as your faithful writer keeps stressing, you have to know the risks in order to evaluate them.

Family planning

Family Sharing requires all the latest everything: iOS 8, OS X Yosemite, and iTunes 12. On a Windows system, you need to install iCloud for Windows 4. With all of that in place, Apple lets up to six people share media purchases across their own accounts. This includes apps (and in-app purchases), books, and anything bought via iTunes. A single credit card can (must, actually) be used to make purchases.

Chris Breen wrote a comprehensive guide to Family Sharing in September, after Yosemite shipped: "Get to know iOS 8: Family Sharing sets your iTunes purchases free." But what I want address is something reader Joey Archer alerted me to via Twitter: Family Sharing extends to Find My iPhone and Find My Mac, as well as Find My Friends.

This all makes perfect and lovely sense. When my children are old enough that I want to send them into the world on their own, I expect to outfit them with iPhones, and absolutely want to be able to know where they are if something happens or just to know they've gotten home safely without me having to have them check in.

But there's something a little interesting in how Family Sharing works. Even though you can denote specific accounts as belonging to 12-and-under humans, you can't prevent location sharing and other features from working across every device in a group, as opposed to just adults seeing everything, and kids not unless the adults allow it. Even if Apple offered this option for younger kids, teens graduate from account restrictions at age 13.

That sounds trivial, and I don't have teenagers yet, but it would seem to defeat the purpose of keeping tabs on your kids as appropriate while also not letting them know when you're, say, returning from an evening obligation, and give them time to kick their friends out and spray air freshener all over. (Yes, kids, we're on to the the air freshener.)

 

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