iPhone safety for Explorers – a chapter section on setting Apple age

When I started my book project I though iPhone setup would be a quick chapter. It didn’t turn out that way. iPhone configuration is probably a third of the book, including initial setup, simplifications, and safety measures.

Most recently iOS 12 forced a complete rewrite of all these chapters and, in the absence of documentation, a good amount of experimentation (my Explorers have been justly annoyed by that)  I’ve discovered, for example, that there are significant remote control options for users whose “Apple age” is less than 18. I’ve also found that when one enables remote control all local Screen Time settings are erased without warning.

With the changes made in iOS 12 safety support now requires setting an Explorer’s Apple age to be under 18 by changing their Apple ID associated birth date. Here’s what I wrote about this today …

The key to safe iPhone use is to decide what birth date Apple should use for the Explorer you are supporting. Apple only provides effective safety support for users for users under 18 years old. The user age, which I think of as the “Apple age”, is based on the birthdate associated with a user’s Apple ID.

If an Explorer’s Apple age is well under 18 this isn’t a concern. If Apple believes an Explorer is near or above age 18 then safety support requires changing the birthday Apple uses.

A user’s birth date can be changed using a web browser at Apple’s ID management site⁠ [1] or through the iPhone’s user account settings [screenshot] under “Name, Phone Numbers, Email”. In my own testing I think it works better to change birth date on the Explorer’s iPhone⁠ [2].

My current practice is to initially set a birth date so that Apple software considers the Explorer to be 14 years old. This doesn’t seem to have many side-effects beyond enabling the iPhone’s safety features⁠ [3]. I can, for example, set my Explorers’ age to 14 but “Allow All Movies” and “Explicit” books.

An initial “Apple age” of 14 means every 3 years a Guide and Explorer must decide whether to revert to the true age or dial back to 14 again. That seems a reasonable interval for reconsideration. The goal of both Explorer and Guide is for the Explorer to no longer require this kind of supported use⁠ [4].

Of course an Explorer can also change their Apple Age using a web browser or their iPhone or any Apple device (including a Mac). Teens discovered this within seconds of Screen Time being available in iOS 12 beta. If this is a concern there are two measures to take.

One measure is to use the Screen Time “Content & Privacy Restrictions” to restrict Account Changes. That will prevent changing Apple Age on the Explorer’s iPhone.

The second measure was discussed in the chapter on initial setup and is also discussed later in this safety chapter. Most Explorer’s don’t need to know their iCloud password and there are safety advantages to keeping that secret. Without knowledge of that password it’s difficult to change Apple Age using web browser [⁠5].

I don’t like changing an Explorer’s Apple age. It’s demeaning. I would like Apple to provide an Accessibility setting called “supported use” that would enable support without changing an Explorer’s birth date. Until Apple does that however, this is the only way I know to support iPhone use for a vulnerable adult. Whether to bring this Apple age change up with an Explorer is something a Guide must decide.

– fn -
1 https://appleid.apple.com/account/manage
2 At the time I write this Screen Flow is new and has many undocumented behaviors and a few bugs.
3 I think this age may also affect what kind of marketing Apple does to its customers.
4 On my own iPhone I have enabled Screen Time blocks to restrict my own use of social media. As an adult I can lift the blocks, but it requires an extra step.
5 I discuss password resets and the effects of two factor authentication later in this chapter.

Netflix accounts can be purchased with a gift card

We learned today that it’s not hard to create an individual Netflix account for an Explorer without the risks of automated credit card or debit car withdrawals (overdrafts, lack of expense control, tracking of spend, etc).

A Netflix account can be funded by a Netflix gift card. Our Explorer paid me cash from his job, I bought him a Netflix gift card on Amazon. When I set up his account I used the Gift card option. It worked. It will be interesting to see what happens when he exhausts the Gift Card fund. I’ll update this post when I learn that.

There is a bug in the process to beware of. Even after entering the Gift card Netflix tries to get a debit or credit card. You can continue without this, but if you click the credit/debit option there’s no control to continue without entering the data. I had to close the window. When I reopened Netflix asked me to finish my Explorer’s signup. I did that and chose the “Continue” option.

iOS 12.0.1 bug: can’t enable blocked site by entering restriction code

In iOS 11 when Web Content was set to “Allowed websites only” and a user tried to access a non-allowed site there was an option to allow the page. Tap on that, enter the restriction code, and the page was added to the permitted list.

This option is missing in iOS 12.0.1. Instead the “allowed websites only” list but be manually edited. Which is almost useless.

Screen Time age-specific behavior: “Ignore Limit” vs. “Ask For More Time” – a plea for a new accessibility setting

Apple introduced “Screen Time” with iOS 12. It includes a feature called “Downtime” with the ability to block sets of apps for specified times. Another similar feature sets time limits on apps. 

This would obviously be helpful for managing screen distraction for special needs children and adults.

Sadly the behavior of Downtime is age specific. If a user’s Apple ID is a member of Family Sharing, and the Apple ID age is under 18, when a user taps on a blocked app Screen Time provides a link to “Ask For More Time”. If the Apple ID age is over 18 (in the US anyway) there’s an option to simply “Ignore Limit”.

So Screen Time is not very useful for vulnerable adults. I would like Apple to add an option to Accessibility called “Supported use” and a companion restriction to block changes to the Supported Use setting.

There is a silver lining though. Apple makes it easy for a user to change their birthday. Tap on Settings [your name] then Name, Phone Numbers, Email then change birthday. I did this on a test device then added the test device Apple ID to my own device Family Sharing account. After doing this blocked apps show the “Ask for More Time” link.  (I expected this to work like “ask to buy” and show up on the Family Sharing administrator’s iPhone, but when I tested it only appeared on the test iPhone’s screen. So it requires physical access.)

You may now be thinking “what’s to stop a supported user from changing their birthday back to adult”? Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Account Changes [Don’t Allow] prevents access to the Settings > [your name] control.

Google has taken a different approach with their Family Link solution. They make changing age more difficult, but they enable a pragmatic set of restrictions for anyone over 13 (“age of consent” for Google). 

I hope Apple will one day add a “Supported user” Accessibility option. I also hope they will add remote management of mobile device restrictions to iCloud. In the meantime the age change option may be a good workaround. I’d suggest choosing age 14; that will give Apple 4 more years to add an Accessibility option for cognitive disadvantages. If I find a problem with this I’ll update this post.

PS. There are some bugs with iOS 12 Screen Time — check it’s still working as expected after an iOS update for example. The permitted app UI also displays Home Screen “bookmarks” as GUIDs — long strings of letters and numbers.