What to do when breaking up a shared Apple ID account

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Apple’s cloud services (iTunes, iCloud, etc.) require you to create an Apple ID, which is essentially your key to access. Each person using Apple’s services should have a unique Apple ID, but sometimes people share IDs for convenience. That could led to some issues, however.

For example, if an Apple ID is being shared by a couple, it can create a problem if the couple breaks up. A reader writes in with such a story:

My partner and I broke up. We’ve been sharing the same iTunes account for years. Everything downloaded on one phone appears on the other. How do I stop this?

While the question is about iTunes, an iTunes account is a form of Apple ID: you can use it just for purchasing, or with iCloud for calendar, contacts, email, photos, and music, as well as macOS access and elements associated with Continuity (iOS/macOS interactions).

Before I offer the rest of my advice, can you negotiate with this former partner over custody? If so, you might be faced with different choices. If you’ve purchased apps, music, videos, audiobooks, and other items using this Apple ID, you might have to figure out how one party reimburses the other for stuff they want to keep and still use.

If that’s the case, one person could be left with the account and simply change the password. (This is a good time to also enable two-factor authentication and review the phone numbers and email addresses associated with the Apple ID, to make sure they’re all yours; or encourage your ex to do the same.)

Let’s assume you are willing to abandon the account or have granted custody to your partner.

First, you’ll want to copy all media and other items that aren’t purchases that are tied to the account. If you’re using the Apple ID just for iTunes, that’s everything. With apps and videos, usage is tied to an Apple ID login, and you can’t use them without logging in. (The music files have no protection on them, but if both you and your partner retain copies, that’s a copyright violation.)

If you’re also using iCloud sync for contacts, calendars, email, photos, or music, you’ll want to make sure you have the copies you want of all your stuff stored locally before deleting it. The last stage of what you’ll after the below bullet points is log out of the iTunes or iCloud account you’re using.

(I’m assuming no one will do something malicious here and delete media or other information that the other person has a right to have, but given the complicated nature of relationships, I’m going to let you all work out those details.)

  • Contacts. You can use the Contacts app in macOS to select contact entries and then use File > Export > Contacts Archive to create a file that you can import on another Mac. You can then delete those selected Contacts before logging out. Quit after deleting, because otherwise, deletion can be undone. There’s no way to export contacts from iOS’s Contacts app or from iCloud.com. However, you can use third-party apps that access your iOS address book to group, copy, excerpt, and delete entries.

  • Calendar. If you’ve shared a single calendar, it’s harder to separate these entries and, as with Contacts, you have to use macOS (or possibly a third-party iOS app) to export entries. You may want to use Calendar in macOS to export an entire calendar, and then selectively delete entries related to you, especially those with phone numbers, addresses, and people’s names.

  • Email. If you’re using options to store email on a server with Apple’s Mail app, retrieve it on a Mac to store locally by dragging messages or mailboxes to entry under On My Mac that appear in the sidebar. All messages you drag to that section are moved from the server to your Mac. You don’t need to do anything else. If you’re using a different email program, consult the directions for moving messages and mailboxes from server storage to local Mac storage.

  • Photos. With iCloud Photo Library enabled, every photo you upload using a Mac, iOS device, or via iCloud.com while logged into that Apple ID will be copied to all other devices logged into the same one (and available via iCloud.com). Copy the files you want to retain, and then delete them from Photos in iOS or macOS or via iCloud.com. Deleting images from iCloud Photo Library deletes them from every device on which they appear. To make sure they’re permanently gone, check for the Recently Deleted album. If they’re still there, select them and choose delete, which removes them forever.

  • Music. Apple lets you sync music files in your library across devices. (This is distinct from iTunes Match, which finds high-quality versions of any music you’ve ripped or purchased elsewhere, and makes those available.) You’ll want to make sure to copy any music files that belong to you before logging out of the Apple ID account.

After having done all of the above, on all your devices, log out from that account. If you’re using a single Apple ID for both iTunes and purchases and for iCloud, log out from both places.

  • In macOS, go to the iCloud system preference pane, click Sign Out, and follow prompts.
  • In iOS to sign out of iCloud, go to Settings, tap your name, and swipe down. Then, tap Sign Out. For iTunes, tap iTunes & App Store and then tap the “Apple ID: email@domain.com” link. Finally, tap Sign Out.
  • If you’re using third-party contact, calendar, or email software, you may also need to sign out of or delete your Apple ID from those locations.

Assuming you don’t have another Apple ID you’re already using with iCloud, create a new Apple ID at appleid.apple.com, then log in via Settings in iOS and the Sharing preference pane in macOS.

You can now copy all the stuff you exported and saved back into your various apps.

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