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.


Why it’s a good idea to monitor email of a vulnerable adult

#1 got this email today:

Isn’t **** is one of your pass? My name is Aubert. 

Porn site you watched had my backdoor planted which taped a video of your greasy stimulating actions with the help of your cam and even taped the clip you were playing. In the video recording you happen to be appearing pleasing. 

Your current email and FB contacts were then sent to me by my malware. 

I’ll email your recording to your friends unless you pay me $1000 via B I T C O I N S in the next 36 hours to the below address: 
B I T C O I N Address: **** 
Make sure to Copy-Paste address because it is case sensitive. 

Once you have sent the money, I will destroy your video and every bit of information I have about you. 

If I do not receive the money, I will send your video to every contact of yours. Think concerning the awkwardness you will get. and likewise if you are in an important relationship, how it will eventually affect? 

If you want proof? Reply “Yes”, and I will email your recording to eight of your email contactsinstantly. 

Yours truly 

This is why it’s a good idea to monitor the email of a vulnerable adult. I’d probably wouldn’t notice this email, I’d delete it in my sleep. A vulnerable adult doesn’t think that way. They are prey.

Our Explorer emails forward incoming email to us, so we caught this one immediately. I deleted it before #1 read it, but I printed a copy to teach him about these scams.

Google’s Family Link for remote device management – puberty, adulthood, and Google Suites

Special needs teens and adults are a vulnerable population. As parents and guardians (Guides) we are obliged to protect them from threats as best we can. Some of those threats can come from smartphones.

Smartphones can promote independence, but they also create risks and harms. The hardest part of my ‘iPhone for all book project’ is writing about how to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms. Excessive screen time is one harm. Other problems include web content that triggers a problematic obsession [4], social media mistakes, scams, trolls and predators, and even legal semi-scams like costly game add-ons and subscriptions.

Guides need tools to manage these risks. We need tools that for teens who live with us, and for adults who may have a separate residence. Especially for the latter, we need remote management tools [1] we can use from our own smartphones or computers.

Apple has effectively no remote management tools [2]. The one small exception is ‘ask to buy’ functionality for Family Sharing — which only works for under 18. In theory third parties could fill this gap, but I’ve found problems with all of the solutions I’ve tested. Qustodio’s VPN can’t handle encrypted connectionsMMGuardian has several killer flaws, and their competition didn’t  even meet my minimal test standards [3].

Google, on the other hand, has multiple remote management tools. If you use Google Suite (but not the free version some of us have) you have a business class mobile device management tool that even supports iPhones. If you’re an educator you can use Google Classroom and G Suite for Education. Lastly, if you’re a parent, you can use Family Link.

Family Link includes:

  • app level blocks and permissions
  • screen time limits
  • web activity controls (!)
  • location tracking

Family Link isn’t quite perfect. It’s not available for G Suite users for example — so if you’re a geek family and have paid for G Suite Basic you’re out of luck [4]. 

There’s also a manageable problem with turning 13. Google considers this the “age of consent” for the US. They don’t seem to mean this in the legal sense of consenting to sexual intercourse (that’s currently 16 in most American states), it seems to mean consenting to parental control. At age 13 a family link member can opt out of the program. When this happens the “parent” will be notified and the child’s “devices will be temporarily locked and unusable”. Originally the program simply ended at age 13, so this is an improvement. The current behavior is annoying, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

I wondered if there was another transition at age 18 (adulthood in the US and most nations). It’s not currently documented anywhere, but Google’s Help service responded to my inquiry (!). They say 13 is the only transition, there are no further changes at age 18. That’s very good news for vulnerable adults.

Android’s multiple controls are enough to knock off Qustodio, MMGuardian and the rest for Android customers. That leaves only the iOS market now, and Apple has made it quite hard for third party vendors to support this range of services.

When it comes to protecting children and vulnerable adults, Android has pulled well ahead of iOS. We can only hope Apple will feel some pressure to match what Google has done.

– fn –

[1] These are known as ‘mobile device management’ tools. That term is most often used in the context of business and education, but it includes this use.
[2] iOS devices have remote management capabilities, but Apple doesn’t offer tools to work with them. They have left this for third-party vendors.
[3] This kind of software is quite hard to test, which may explain why there are so few serious reviews. The more I learn about how Apple mobile device management works the more I understand why vendors struggle to provide a good solution. This can’t be a very profitable niche, especially now that Google provides Family Link for free, and all vendors know there’s a risk that Apple will provide their own solution and wipe out the industry.
[4] G Suite users have G Suite mobile device management, but it’s designed for different kinds of concerns and is a poor fit to the family user.

Update 10/6/2018Gordon’s Tech: Only Apple can provide family mobile device management for iOS. Might require governmental pressure.

The state of the book – August 2018

When I started my book project a part of me thought it would take about 6 months. A little voice, however, said I would take years. Even then I knew the little voice was right. My only consolation was that I was pretty sure nobody else would be crazy enough to tackle this project.

I started in the fall of 2015, so it’s been about 3 years. When I began I was going to handle both Android and iOS smartphones in one book. I gave up on that idea over a year ago, it’s iPhone only now. Maybe one day I’ll do an Android version, but no promises on that.

During the past year I’ve chipped away at the project for a few hours on Sunday mornings and the odd vacation days (like today). I now have second and third drafts for the contents of these chapters (from Scrivener):

Book Chapters

It’s still a long way from done. My current goal is to get 1st edition out by spring 2019 (iOS 12) and a 2nd edition for iOS 13. I’ll be self-publishing of course.

With iOS 12 I have to rewrite the “Setting up” (includes restrictions/parental controls) chapter completely. That’s a good thing; the current version is too complex and detailed. I’m going to redo it focusing on the highest value basics and either give up on the fine points or move them into an appendix. Throughout the book I have screenshots to do and redo and, of course, lots of editing and proofreading and revising. I think I have the right topics and base material though.

One day, one way or another, barring catastrophe, I’ll finish the book.

iPhone independence – what if the phone dies?

The premise of Smartphones for All is that a carefully configured iPhone can support greater independence for teens and adults with cognitive disabilities (Explorers), just as an electric wheelchair supports independence for someone with a motor disability.

What happens when the wheelchair breaks? That’s when a phone is handy. Pull over and call for help. Just like when a car breaks down.

Likewise, what happens when an Explorer’s iPhone is lost, stolen, or broken? In this case an Explorer can just … umm … right. This is a hard problem, one I hadn’t considered until recently.

We haven’t had a dead iPhone crisis yet. Our Explorers are very careful with their iPhones, more careful than they are with anything else. “Bob” always carries an auxiliary power supply, he’s never close to losing power. He loses everything but his phone; we recently switched him to a wallet phone case so he won’t lose his bus pass and ID.

But even if Bob never loses his phone, it could certainly be stolen or dropped and broken. At that point his autism will intensify, he will lose language skills, he will become agitated and anxious. As an average size adult male he may make people around him fearful. He will lose memory access and be unable to recall our mobile numbers. He could draw police attention — and even though St Paul police are among the best anywhere (they do autism training!) it would be a risky situation. If he were in Minneapolis …

“Ted” wouldn’t be in quite as much trouble. If he were on his bicycle he’d simply ride home. If he didn’t have transportation he’d be happy to seek out police assistance. He’d be more comfortable asking a stranger for help; that’s a low risk option for a strong adult male and a stranger that he chooses. (It’s a riskier option for a vulnerable female if the stranger approaches them.) Even for Ted though, advance planning would be wise.

So what do we do about this? High quality, high visibility protective cases reduce the risk of loss and breakage. Replacing an older battery reduces the risk of unexpected power loss. We will have both Explorers practice reciting E’s mobile number from memory.

We’re also developing a script that goes something like this:

  1. If your iPhone is stolen or lost don’t try to recover it. We will replace it. (Bob will be particularly anxious about being blamed for the loss or breakage.)
  2. Find somewhere quiet to sit or walk alone and practice calming. This may take 15 to 30 minutes.
  3. If you are at work or school you can ask for help from an official. If you are in a retail store or restaurant ask for help from the manager. In other spaces look for help from a police officer or other official. If you approach a stranger choose a larger male rather than a smaller woman, they will be less nervous.
  4. Explain that you have autism, have lost your phone, and are in trouble. Ask if the person helping you can make a call for you to your mother.
  5. If you can’t reach Mom take a break and try again in 15 minutes. If you approached a stranger let them go, you’ll work with someone else for the second try.
  6. If you still can’t reach Mom or an official then ask a stranger to call 911 for police emergency and explain that you have autism to the dispatcher. Then wait for the police to arrive.

This is a complicated script. My current thought is to print a modified version on one side of a business card. The other side would explain about our Explorer’s disability and have more extensive contact information. We’d print hundreds of these and regularly put them into pants pockets.

We could also buy a device that would print/label clothing and put E’s contact number onto clothing — along with a TinyURL for more information.

Perhaps one day our Explorers may carry a backup phone in the form of a smartwatch with SIM card. That’s a relatively expensive option for now but I’m considering it.

I’m going to have to work this into a book chapter.

Smartphones for All chapter excerpt: Music for iPhone Explorers

From Smartphones for All (draft):

In our family music has been problem-free entertainment. I think this is a general rule — music doesn’t show up on anyone’s list of smartphone concerns. Fifty years ago elders feared the corrupting influence of rock-and-roll, now that seems quaint. Music we can handle.

There are broadly speaking, 3 ways of getting music to an Explorer’s iPhone: iTunes sync, buying music from Apple Music, or using a streaming service. I’ll review each briefly with a focus on Guide support and costs, then I’ll briefly review Restrictions for music consumption.

The iTunes sync method of getting music to an iPhone is the oldest and potentially the least expensive — but it is now almost forgotten. It a Windows or Mac computer. With this approach a Guide assembles music files in Apple’s iTunes app, then the music can be copied (“synced”) to the iPhone, usually with a physical cable[1]. The music can from a CD (by “ripping” in iTunes) or from a file collection that is not copy protected.

This iTunes method has three disadvantages. It requires a personal computer — and those are slowly going away. It requires an Explorer’s iPhone be physically connected. Lastly “ripping” large number of CDs is pretty time consuming.

iTunes sync has advantages though. If a Guide already has the music files, and is willing to disregard copyright laws or to buy and rip used CDs, the music is inexpensive. Listening to this music doesn’t use up expensive cellular data since it’s already on the iPhone.

There’s a variation on iTunes sync that eliminates the need for access to the Explorer’s iPhone. For $25 a year Apple’s iTunes Match[2] service will provide internet access to an iTunes music library. In theory a Guide could use this to manage Explorer music without access to an Explorer’s iPhone. This is method may use up an Explorer’s cellular data though, and it’s more troublesome and complicated. If an Explorer is using iTunes Match a Guide will usually want to disable cellular data for Music.app, an Explorer will download the music over WiFi.

The second way to get music on an Explorer’s iPhone is to buy it from Apple using the Apple store. At $1.30 a tune this can be an expensive way to build a music collection[3]. The music may be available to other users by a shared Apple Store ID or “family sharing”. This method will use cellular data unless initial downloading is done over WiFi. Some Explorers do enjoy making purchases this way and Apple Store purchases can be combined with iTunes sync. I reviewed how to manage iTunes store dollars in Smartphone choice and managing costs. In my family we share one App Store account and track credits and debits in a spreadsheet.

The third way to get music to an Explorer’s iPhone is through a “streaming service” like Spotify or Apple Music. These services typically cost $100 to $120 a year for the non-student and about $60 for students. Shared “family” plans can be more economical, Spotify makes it easy for up to 6 people to share streaming costs. Spotify also has a “free” ad-supported service, but it burns cellular data quickly. I don’t recommend it for most Explorers.

Streaming services will use up expensive cellular data unless music is downloaded over WiFi. WiFi downloading is easier to understand with Apple Music but Spotify supports it as well. If cellular data use is disabled in iOS restrictions most Explorers will quickly learn how to download over WiFi.
Spotify’s paid version (Premium) with cellular data disabled is the easiest and most economical solution for most Explorers — particularly if they can share an account with friends or family. Apple Music streaming is a bit simpler to use, but cost sharing is more restrictive. It’s a good alternative to Spotify.

[1] Or by local WiFi, but that method can be quirky.
[2] iTunes Match is also bundled with Apple Music for $120 a year. Apple Music can be shared with family for a higher fee, but iTunes Match doesn’t do family sharing. It’s complicated! Also, I think Apple is eventually going to discontinue iTunes Match.
[3] Historically building a music library was expensive, but many people bought used CDs or records for less