Why can’t Family Sharing include more than six people?

Apple imposes a seemingly arbitrary limit to prevent misuses of the feature.

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Family Sharing allows Apple uses to select up to six people in their family who can pool iCloud storage, share most apps, and view each other’s purchased media. It also lets parents more easily shape and monitors usage of their kids’ devices, providing more security and peace of mind.

But why is there a six-person limit? A Macworld reader with six children recently wrote in to explain how it affects his family after he tried to add his two youngest kids:

Now I can’t use screen time controls for them because I can’t add them to my family. And I can’t stop my oldest 20-year-old to make room because he relies on our Apple Music subscription and app sharing. So I’m left with leaving the little ones unprotected, which is unacceptable. How do I get around this?

I should note before getting into the rest of it that you can enable Screen Time on individual and iCloud-linked sets of devices without using Family Sharing. That requires setting a PIN on each device or on a single device in an iCloud-linked set and enabling Screen Time on each device. It doesn’t offer centralized management, but it does provide protection. (Macs require Catalina, the first version to include Screen Time.)

Unfortunately, there’s no workaround for adding more people to Family Sharing. Apple likely picked six as a reasonably inclusive number. Only about 1 percent of households in America have more than six people in them, though that number includes both adults and children in a single household.

And the company ostensibly limited the number, and didn’t set it to something like ten, for a combination of licensing terms it sets with app developers and music and video partners, and to prevent groups of people sharing an account in order to share items and reduce Apple and its partners’ revenue.

To Apple’s credit, they do not say, “Covers the whole family.” Rather, they more carefully state, “Family Sharing makes it easy for up to six family members to share…”

One solution: Take a Solomon-like approach and split the family in two. No, not down the middle of each child, thank you, but pick one parent for one group of kids to run their Family Sharing and another parent for the rest. This doesn’t give you quite the same financial benefit in not purchasing things twice, but it does allow collective Screen Time management and sharing of some purchases.

Since more apps are shifting to in-app purchases for subscriptions and other features, and in-app purchases are not shared as part of apps that allow Family Sharing (which seems to be most apps), you see less of a benefit these days from shared app across a family.

Apple could use another option for Family Sharing, which is to rely on part on geographic verification. If you wanted to add more than six people total, you might have to opt in to letting Apple occasionally check—even in some privacy enhanced obscured way—that all the devices were usually clustered around the same address.

Spotify takes that tack for its family accounts, which are licensed to use only by people residing at the same address. The company routinely asks for verification, too. Maybe that’s not the right approach.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader David.

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