Apple’s confusing method of device authorisation and association

Kirk McElhearn
2 May, 2017
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The iTunes Store was launched 14 years ago, and has morphed from its initial music-only offering to embrace all forms of digital media. It’s now just another digital purveyor among many, though still the leading seller of digital music in the world.

While music files were protected with digital rights management (DRM) in the early years, it’s now been eight years since this was removed. But other types of content sold on the iTunes Store still have DRM: movies, TV shows, apps, audiobooks, ebooks, and ringtones. For these types of media with DRM, there are restrictions as to how many devices you can use.

It gets complicated, though, because there are two types of restrictions. The first is for computers that are authorised to sync and play content from the iTunes Store, and the second is for devices that are allowed to download and play iTunes Store purchases.

Confusing, isn’t it? Trying to understand what these different categories cover, and then trying to manage your devices can be a head-scratcher.

Let’s start with authorised computers. As Apple says, “You can authorise up to five computers, which means that you can play your content on five different computers.” To authorise a computer, you start playing some protected content – say, a movie or TV show – and enter your Apple ID and password when prompted. Or, in iTunes, you can choose Account > Authorisations > Authorise This Computer.

You may want to deauthorise one or more of your computers as well; you may have a computer that no longer works, or you may have sold or given away your Mac or PC. If you haven’t deauthorised it before selling or giving it away, or if you find that you’ve reached your limit, then you can deauthorise all of your computers from your iTunes account. Choose Account > View My Account, then, in the Apple ID Summary section, under Computer Authorisations, click Deauthorise All.


authorizationsKirk McElhearn/IDG

You can see how many computers are authorised, and deauthorise all of them in iTunes.


As you can see above, I have five computers authorised. The only problem is, I know that I don’t have five computers. There’s no way to see which computers are listed as authorised, and I only know of four computers that are currently linked to my account. I could deauthorise them all, but Apple only lets you do this once per year. If you shift computers often, or if you have problems with a computer that gets repaired several times (the authorisation is based on a unique identifier in your hardware) you may be stuck.

Understanding associated devices can be complicated too. It’s not clear how different this is than authorisations (at least for computers; associated devices include iOS devices, but not the Apple TV). My computers show up as associated devices, and they’re authorised; I can disassociate devices, once every 90 days, but I don’t understand why a computer needs to be both authorised and associated.


associationsKirk McElhearn/IDG

Associated devices include iOS devices, but it’s not entirely clear how different this association is from authorisation.


If I can see which devices are associated with my account, why can’t I see which computers are authorised? And why can’t I deauthorise a single computer, especially if I have had one that needed repairs? And why the annual limit?

Apple has made this process confusing, and while it’s not a problem for most people, anyone with a couple of kids, a few Macs and a bunch of iOS devices will have problems. I know Apple does this because of the rights holders of the content the company sells and rents, but this whole process should be simplified.

One Comment

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  1. Cube Over says:

    This is done to stop malicious users who lead active social life form inoculating all their friends’ devices with their purchased media. If you could see which PC/Mac you could remove selectively, that device might have been brought offline and used as just media player still. Killing all devices (including your own) off your account puts enough manual steps on the way of bypassing DRM limitations – otherwise media moguls would not be so easy with putting all their precious content onto iTunes as the 1st choice digital platform.

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