Apple, it’s time to move parental controls to the cloud

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We’re an Apple family, since way before it was cool. Right now, I have a 2.5 year old iMac that is still going strong, iPad 3 and iPhone 4S. Husband has an iPad 3 and iPhone 5. Teenager #1 has an iPad 3 and uses a hand-me-down iMac for writing/school work. Teenager #2 has her dad’s hand-me-down iPhone 4 and my hand-me-down 2009 MacBook.

I see many families like ours. So it’s surprising to me that thus far, Apple has done little to help families organize their iLives.

Yesterday, I spent nearly an hour on the phone with Apple account security. My daughter got the iPhone last week after her dad got his iPhone 5. She’s had her iTunes account for years, going back to her first hand-me-down phone which she used as an iPod. My kids’ iTunes accounts have no credit cards attached to them. Instead, we take funds from their allowance and email them iTunes gift cards they can redeem to their accounts. That way, there are no surprises and they can’t spend what they don’t have.

She had $11 credit still on her iTunes account from the last gift card I sent her. She tried to download an app on the iPhone and received a prompt to confirm security questions since it was the first time the store account was being used on that device. Trouble is, she never set security questions. Kind of hard to ask a 14 year-old what her least favorite job was (we tried “cleaning my room” but that didn’t work).

Since the high profile hacking incident last summer, Apple has made it very difficult to reset an account. I could log in to her ID online, but there was no way to reset the security questions. When you call Apple, it’s difficult to get routed to security. You have to go to tech support first, make your case and prove you are who you say you are, then get transferred to the security team. Finally, I jumped through all the necessary hoops…including having an unlock code sent to her device that I had to read to them…before they allowed me to retype security questions that the device would accept.

I am happy that Apple has tightened their controls and security is a priority. But for me, it highlights their lack of true parental oversight features. Sure, iOS has per-device parental controls, but I always found it lacking. Especially as my kids got older. It’s all-or-nothing and must be set up and maintained on every device separately. I don’t want to have to decide between treating my teenagers like they’re preschoolers and having some oversight over how they use technology. I want to be able to monitor their activities and behavior, not toggle them. My kids know more curse words at this point than I do, that’s not it. But they also know that their privacy is an illusion that I allow them.

Apple, it’s time to move family management to the cloud. I’d love to log in to my iCloud account and see my childrens’ iCloud accounts as a sub menu and control their settings from there. Apple should know which iCloud accounts belong to minors, the way Facebook and Google do. If there is a problem, tell me. I am the one who is accountable for their behavior and activities online and off, and I take that responsibility seriously. Give me the tools to make that possible. I should be able to see their calendars and contacts. That’s my choice. Not theirs. I should be able to add to their iTunes account balances or find their devices. Right now, I have to log out of my own account and log in to theirs. My kids don’t have to love it, but they understand that it’s the cost of doing business. Right now, I have no easy way to view their account balances or see what they’re purchasing without logging in as them via iTunes.

Maybe in iOS 7?