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Customers with multiple Apple IDs frustrated by Apple's "no consolidation" policy

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

Since Apple's iCloud announcement, we have received a steady stream of messages from people with the same problem: multiple Apple IDs.

Some readers have been managing two Apple IDs on purpose and are now frustrated about the fact that Apple is restricting logins for automatic downloads. Others have only just discovered that they have two IDs. Most of them have already contacted Apple, only to be given the same answer without exception: Apple will not consolidate Apple ID accounts.

One of the Frequently Asked Questions About Apple IDs is "I have multiple Apple IDs. Is there a way for me to consolidate them into a single Apple ID?" The answer: "At this time, Apple IDs cannot be consolidated."

The optimists will interpret "at this time" as meaning that this could change in the future. The word "cannot" is also open to interpretation. I suspect Apple's intended meaning is "there is no mechanism in place to do this" rather than "it would be impossible for us to do this if we really wanted to." After all, assuming that the apps are still available, it seems like it would be a relatively straightforward matter of "gifting" the apps from one account to the other. However, if that has to be done manually for each person facing this issue, it could be quite time-consuming.

I discovered that I had inadvertently created two Apple IDs not long after the iOS App Store appeared. One of the nice things about the App Store has always been that you could re-download purchases free of charge. While checking my email one day, I realized that I had been billed twice for the same application. I contacted Apple's usually excellent iTunes support (since the App Store was brand new, there was no separate App Store support channel yet), and I informed them of the mistake. The customer service person replied that she could not see a duplicate charge and asked me to forward both receipts to her. That was when I realized what had happened. The usernames were identical, except that one ended in "" and the other was the same username, but without a domain name. (You may recall Marco Arment wrote about this problem regarding Instapaper accounts, indicating it was responsible for "[m]any of Instapaper's top support issues.")

When I realized what had happened, I contacted Apple support again, asking if they could merge my accounts. The answer I was given was not just "no" but 'absolutely not, under any circumstances ever.' While I am paraphrasing the support rep's response, that captures the spirit of it. I asked nicely, I complained, I sent separate requests hoping to get someone else, and I have asked again periodically whenever it occurred to me to do so. The answer remains a resolute and unwavering "no."

Apple has no obligation to take any steps to correct my stupidity. Regardless of how much money the company has made or how much cash it's sitting on, at the end of the day, I am a grownup and responsible for my own actions. Because I did not pay close enough attention to what I was doing, I brought this on myself. [Users with MobileMe accounts that conflict with their Apple IDs may have created them completely without realizing it; see threads here and here. –Ed.]

Music purchases through iTunes were easy enough to solve: I upgraded to "iTunes Plus" whenever possible, which removed the DRM. Unfortunately there is no equivalent for App Store purchases. Since I realized this shortly after the App Store opened, I have been able to avoid repeating the mistake and only had to repurchase a few apps. However, my Apple Support Profile shows almost all of my Mac/iOS hardware as belonging to one Apple ID, and all of my App Store purchases belong to the other Apple ID. It is a minor annoyance, at most, for me.

Others have not been so fortunate, and with the advent of iCloud, the problem seems to be looming ever larger for some people. Obviously, we have no way of knowing how many people are faced with it, but given the size of the iTunes and App Store customer base, even a small percentage represents a significant number of people.

Could Apple change this policy?

It would seem so. From the outside looking in, it does not appear to be an insurmountable technological problem, but more one of record-keeping; addressing it would clearly help a small-but-not-negligible number of Apple customers.

Do I expect Apple to change this policy? No, I don't. The company seems to have dug in its heels on this issue early on, and I have no reason to think that the policy will change now. We can only speculate as to why Apple enforces this hard-and-fast rule; a strong suspicion voiced by Mike Rose on this topic is that Apple's licensing agreements with content owners (music labels and movie studios in particular) have some sand in the gears when it comes to merging or splitting content libraries.

[It's also possible that Apple cannot afford to get bogged down in exception handling and legal vagaries across 50 states and scores of countries when, for instance, a brace of divorce lawyers call and request that a 20,000-song iTunes library be split up between their clients' accounts. Much simpler to have a consistent answer of "We can't do that, sorry." –Ed.]

On the other hand, I did not expect Apple to intervene in the Lodsys issue or back down on subscription pricing, and the unveiling of iCloud would probably be the best time for Apple to change this policy--if it ever will.

If you think Apple should change this policy, you might be inclined to send a politely-worded message through the proper channels. And, no, emailing Steve Jobs directly is not proper channels. On the other hand, I cannot tell you exactly what the proper channel is. I looked at Apple's Feedback Page, but there is no feedback channel for the App Store, which seems very odd. I also looked at the links for iTunes, iPad, and iPhone/iPod touch feedback, but none of them lend themselves to giving App Store feedback.

The Apple ID FAQ does not offer any way to contact Apple about your Apple ID. Nor does the Apple ID support page. Nor does the Apple ID site or the Apple ID recovery page.

Finally I found the iTunes Support page, which has a section titled "iTunes Store Account and Billing." If you select that, and then "Managing your Account," that may be the most appropriate route to give feedback.

And remember: the person who will read your message will not be in a position to change the policy (even if you did hear that your best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with a girl who did get her Apple IDs consolidated), so state your case politely and succinctly in order to let your voice be heard, and then move on. If Apple changes the policy, great. If not, well, then you're no worse off than you are today.

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