The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Nvidia, in the past of other companies such as Iagination Technologies, MIPS, Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Apple iCloud Family Sharing: "family" = "shared credit card"

Apple iCloud Family Sharing sounds good. Especially with the Ask to Buy feature, which by default allows purchases by children to be confirmed.

But what about purchases for family members after they turn 18?:
"turn Ask to Buy on or off for family members who are under 18* in your family group. If you turn off Ask to Buy for a family member after they turn 18,* you can't turn it on again."
As a parent of a soon-to-be-18-year-old-going-off-to-college this matters to me. ;-}

While I might *like* to start off by letting my progeny-at-college make purchases, I definitely want the ability to be able to revoke such permission if they prove irresponsible.  Not that *my* child would ever max out her parents' credit card, but one hears stories...  :-)

But this "you can't turn it off again after age 18" feature means that, if you are going to withdraw permission, then you might suddenly have to purchase new licenses/copies of things that have hitherto been shared.

Worse - my normal way of handling issues like this is to use a virtual credit card number with a low credit limit. But it appears that iCloud Family Sharing uses the same credit card for all Apple App Store purchases for all members of the family. So if I use my standard trick to limit my learning-to-manage-finances-kid from overspending, my wife and I also end up limited in my app store purchases.

More: my wife and I typically use separate credit cards, to track who is spending what.   This also appears to not be viable with Apple iCloud Family Sharing.  (And, for that matter, with most other "family sharing plans", like Amazon's Kindle.)

** The Limit of Family = Shared Credit Card

In an ideal world, each participant in such a sharing plan would have their own credit.  There might, in addition, be shared credit, or "credit that you have to get approval to use".  And they could share items independent of whose credit was used to purchase them.

Notice that I said "such a sharing plan" in the previous paragraph, not "such a FAMILY sharing plan".

I am guessing that the problem with this, from the point of view of companies like Apple and Amazon, is that it would be hard to restrict such a plan to legal families.  It would be easy for groups of friends to set up such a sharing plan. Possibly to lie about being related.  And increased sharing would reduce sales.

So, companies like Apple and Amazon, rather than letting themselves get bogged down in questions of what is or is not a family, have simply adopted the rule of thumb that sharing a credit card is their definition of family.   If you trust a dozen of your friends to share your credit card, you're a family.

Or, rather: companies like Apple and Amazon don't really care about limiting sharing to legal families. What they care about is limiting sharing, period - they have only grudgingly allowed "family" sharing plans, because of high demand from the classic "2 adults with a few children" households.  But they don't want to allow arbitrary sharing.

They don't care whether the "parents" are husband-and-wife, or, in this era of gay marriage husband-and-husband, or wife-and-wife.

For that matter, the companies probably don't care too much if there are more than two adults in the family: e.g. parents, grandparents, adult children in college or returned to the nest.  The hassles of sharing a credit card make it unlikely that too many contentious adults will be wiling to participate in the "Family Sharing Plan".

Still more: polyamory.  I live in Portland, Oregon: I know people who are in polyamorous families: e.g. 4 adult men, 5 adult women, 3 children, spread across two or more houses or apartments.  Such a polyamorous family could participate in the Apple Family Sharing Plan - as long as they can stomach the shared credit card.   (Although I imagine that Apple probably has an upper limit on number of participants, it would be hard to distinguish polyamory from having the grandparents staying with you. ... I see that Apple limits "family sharing" to 6 people.  Already they are discriminating against nuclear families with more than 4 children! Or 2 grandparents, 2 parents, 2 children. Or ...)

** Nevertheless

But going back to the issue of a family sharing plan that includes grandparents living with parents and children, an increasingly common situation:

What happens if the seniors go senile?  The "cannot reimpose Ask to Buy" rule could make managing that awkward.

It's the same issue as the just-turned-18 kid, although the direction of change is reversed.

** Why "cannot reimpose ask-to-buy after adulthood"?

I am sure that the companies may say that one justification for the "cannot reimpose Ask to Buy" rule is to prevent spouses using the Ask to Buy as a tool, a weapon, to punish the other spouse(s) during marital disputes.

Semi-true --- nobody, individual or corporate, wants to get dragged into these disputes.
Although I am sure it will happen anyway: I can easily imagine a divorce court compelling continued use of a Family Sharing account. 
But it goes further: spouses that separate, then remarry a few years later: can they re-establish a family sharing plan? Or, as I have already mentioned, the parents becoming grandparents scenario.
 In the long run, the "cannot reimpose Ask to Buy" rule is definitely going to discriminate against some legitimate families.

Realistically, of course, the main reason for the "cannot reimpose Ask to Buy" rule is to discourage sharing long after the kids have grown up and moved out - if sharing a credit card is not reason enough.

** Alternatives to Shared Credit Card and the Cannot Reimpose Ask-to-Buy Rule

Given that the de-facto family=shared credit card and "cannot reimpose Ask-to-Buy" rule creates both inconveniences and injustices, could we come up with something better?

I cannot imagine how - unless there was some sort of legal definition of a family, with a registry that was accessible to companies like Apple and Amazon.  Like sharing the parts of your tax return that define "Married filing jointly" with dependents.

And that is not necessarily a good thing for privacy.