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Apple ID Sharing Can Make a Digital Mess. Here’s How to Clean It Up.


As I was setting it up, it asked me for an Apple ID, the email and password combination that today connects iMessage, FaceTime, digital purchases and more. As a preteen coming of age before Family Sharing, I didn’t have my own Apple ID, let alone a credit card. So I logged in with my dad’s account.

Ten years later, I am still logged in.

I’m young enough to be on my parents’ phone plan, but old enough to finally want freedom from shared contacts, photos and playlists. I’m far from unique in these confusing account situations. Trying to FaceTime someone with a shared Apple ID can result in the wrong person answering the call. Many people don’t want to see every picture, screenshot or purchase by other family members.

Chandler Tue, 22, from Nashville, Tenn., said he finally made the switch after his dad asked him about a charge in a dating app. “It’s like one of those freeing moments as a young adult,” Mr. Tue said.

Apple’s own guidance, now that Family Sharing and child accounts exist, is that every family member should have a separate Apple ID. Making a new one is easy. The trouble lies in transferring the important data from the old shared account to your new one. You’ll also have to reacquire the apps, music and video content you’ve purchased.

Here’s what you need to know:

The Important Stuff

When you log out of the former account, your device will ask if you want to keep a copy of some data—namely calendars, contacts, health data, saved passwords and Safari search history. Keeping this data allows you to merge it into your new Apple ID and gives you free rein to delete the parent’s data.

Apps and Digital Purchases

Transferring purchased media, including apps, music and books from one Apple ID to another is prohibited. Your apps will remain on your device when you log in with your new Apple ID. But when an app needs to be updated, you’ll be prompted to sign back in to the old Apple ID.

There are some workarounds:

Log into the old Apple ID just for media and purchases.

This method will divide your Apple data between your personal iCloud data and purchased digital content. However, your future purchases and payments would roll up to that old ID, so you might owe someone money.

To do this, go to the Apple ID menu at the very top of iPhone or iPad settings (look for your name and picture) then hit Media and Purchases. Click Sign Out, then log into the old Apple ID to access the library of music, apps and books associated with it. This method won’t mess up your iMessage or iCloud, but logging in and out of different Apple IDs can be a hassle.

Log into a separate Apple ID just for media and purchases to avoid losing any digital content when switching accounts.


Maddie Ellis/The Wall Street Journal

Start a Family Sharing group.

Family Sharing will allow you to access digital content associated with the formerly shared Apple ID. Using the original Apple ID, send an invite to the Family Sharing group, which allows up to six people to share purchases and subscriptions. Family Sharing means a single central payment account for everybody.

Start over.

There’s something to be said about a digital clean slate. After saving your iCloud data, take an inventory of your apps: ones you no longer need, those that can be re-downloaded for free, and apps that will cost you up front again. Games that charge a high price to download will be lost unless you pay all over again. However, you could at least restore your progress if they’re linked to in-app accounts.


The fear of losing years of photos is one reason why many people put off making a separate Apple ID. But sharing an Apple ID means that images are shared with all users logged into the iCloud account. Morgan Lahmon, a 24-year-old in Toledo, Ohio, said back in high school, she once sneaked onto her mom’s phone to delete screenshots she made of private conversations with her friends.

To move photos to your device, click the Apple ID menu, tap iCloud then Photos. If it’s enabled, switch off iCloud Photos. Say yes to the prompt asking if you want to keep photos on your device.

Save a copy of your full-resolution photos from iCloud before logging out of your Apple ID.


Maddie Ellis/The Wall Street Journal

If you don’t have enough iPhone storage to do this, back up your photos to a Mac using the Photos app (or on a PC via iTunes) before logging out of the original ID, then reupload them to iCloud under the new ID. They’ll appear on your iPhone once they’re uploaded.

If you are a member of other people’s shared photo albums, you will lose access to those images under the new ID, so save all the images before logging out or ask the album organizer to invite your new Apple ID.

Notes and Voice Memos

Like photos, notes and voice memos are synced between devices via iCloud. For voice memos, you can turn off iCloud sharing to save them locally to the device. But you need to move each note to the device.

First, go into the Notes settings and make sure you turn on an “On My iPhone” account. Then, in the app, move each note from iCloud to a folder under On My iPhone.

Saving your notes requires moving them out of iCloud to the device.


Maddie Ellis/The Wall Street Journal

Once the notes are stored on your phone, you can share them across devices by moving them back to iCloud under your new ID. You can’t move shared notes, however. Copy and paste their contents into a new note or have the note creator re-share to you with the new ID.

Merging Apple IDs?

Some people have the opposite problem: two Apple IDs, one for iCloud services, the other for Media and Purchases because of the way Apple’s online services evolved.


Do you share an Apple ID with family members? What has the experience been like? Join the conversation below. Join the conversation below.

Because of this, people with two Apple IDs have a harder time taking advantage of the Apple One subscription bundle. Unfortunately, you can’t merge multiple Apple IDs into a single one.

If you were to pick one of your Apple IDs to stick with for everything, you might encounter some of the problems outlined above. Or maybe it’s just time for a fresh start.

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Write to Maddie Ellis at [email protected]

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