Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,626,720) for “linked user accounts” that would allow separate Apple ID user accounts to be linked into a group of linked user accounts so that content items assigned to each of the user accounts can be accessed by each user account in the group.
Linking user accounts in this way allows the individual user accounts to share content items while also retaining their individual properties such as username, password, preference data, etc. This allows each user account to retain the content items assigned to the user account when the user account is unlinked from the group.
According to the patent filing, linking user accounts can be restricted according to linking rules that dictate how many user accounts can be included in a group, when a user account can be added or removed from a group, etc. A master user account can set parameters restricting content items accessible to the user accounts in the group, as well as money spent be each user account.
In the patent filing, Apple notes that many families share a single user account to make content item purchases from online stores such as iTunes. While sharing a single user account allows multiple family members to access purchased content items, this technique also provides several problems.
For example, by sharing a single user account, purchases made by each family member affects the user profile associated with the user account. Thus, a father that allows his children to purchase songs on his user account may receive recommendations based on the purchases made by the children because the father's user profile is polluted with purchases made by other family members.
Apple says another problem with sharing a single user account is that the purchased content items are associated with the user account used to purchase the content item and cannot be transferred to another user account. This can problematic when a family member wants to create a separate user account. For example, a child leaving for college may wish to have their own user account, separate from the user account shared with the child's father.
The child has no way to transfer the child's content items purchased with the father's user account. Apple says there’s a need for an improved method of sharing purchased content items between family members.
Of course, the company files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.