Saturday, May 11, 2019

Screen Time old device bug: Dev used device ID as key, forgot Apple ID

There’s a well known old-device bug with Screen Time. Once you’ve setup up Screen Time for a child’s device it will always show up under their Apple ID — even after you wipe the device.

So my daughter’s old iPhone 6 showed up under her Screen Time Apple ID — even after it had been wiped.

Today I changed the Apple ID for that device and enrolled it in Screen Time under a new Apple ID. Then I went to look at her Screen Time device list. Lo and behold — the old device was still there, but now its device name changed to match the device name it had when I reenrolled it with the new Apple ID.

So now one device shows twice in my remote Family Screen Time, once under my daughter’s device list, once under the new Apple ID.

I’ve read that Apple’s Screen Time was a “rush job”. Looks like the dev is doing Screen Time by storing a device identifier — maybe a Serial Number and the device name used at enrollment time. They should have used a combination of Apple ID and device identifier but they used device identifier alone.

Two new discoveries in iOS Screen Time (parental controls): Age 13 and Apple ID incompatible with Screen Time

A reputable Twitter source recently wrote that “Screen Time” was "a rush job".

It feels that way. As part of a book project I’ve spent way too much time experimenting with Screen Time. It needs a top to bottom rewrite. Also needs an API so other vendors can extend what Apple offers. 

Anyway, I’ve learned two new things about Screen Time — two special ages and a hint about why one iPhone could not be enrolled in remote Screen Time.

First the ages. US Screen Time has two special ages: 13 and 18. We know about 18, but the 13 is new to me. 

If a Family Member's Apple ID birthdate means their current age is over 18 then remote screen time blocks are turned off. It’s an 18th birthday gift from Apple! This is a problem for special needs adults — chronologically 18 but very vulnerable. The workaround for a special needs adult is to set their AppleID birthdate so they are 14 (write down the birthdate you used, you may need it).

Note I wrote 14, not, say, 10. That’s because 13 is another special age. If a Family Organizer creates an Apple ID birthdate such that a family member’s age is under 13 they will see, after it’s been created, the message "Children under 13 cannot be removed from Family Sharing.” Not only can they not be removed, their birthdate cannot be changed either. You will need to call Apple Support to have changes made, and you may need to work with a supervisor.  Meanwhile any devices with that Apple ID will count against your sharing cap.

What else did I learn?

I learned that some Apple IDs won’t work with Screen Time. It’s not clear why; I assume it’s a obscure bug somewhere in Apple’s creaky identity management infrastructure. When I set up a test phone for my book project I used an old Apple ID of mine. Without going into the convoluted history, that Apple ID is descended from an old mac.com/MobileMe email account and it’s all way too complex to describe. In any case, even though I'd changed the birthdate so age was 14, remote Screen Time settings didn’t “stick”. I’d enable them, they’d flip back to off. I changed the device Apple ID to a fresh one created from my Family Organizer account (which is how I discovered the 13 yo bit) and now it works.

Since my test iPhone doesn’t have a SIM card I wondered if that was part of my remote Screen Time problem. It wasn’t — my setup worked fine. Interestingly when I set the Apple ID this way both FaceTime and iMessage also worked without a SIM card — no ‘waiting for activation’ issues.