As efforts to provide Internet users with more privacy mount, Apple has been at the forefront, helping its customers feel more secure. It’s with that in mind that iOS 15 (coming this fall) will introduce Apple iCloud+ Private Relay. While the name might be something of a handful, its use case most certainly is not. You may confuse it with a VPN, but that’s not really what Apple intended. Let’s take a look at what Private Relay is and what it will do for you as an Apple customer.
What Is Private Relay?
When you look at Relay, it’s important to understand that it is fundamentally different than a VPN. A VPN masks your real location from your internet service provider and from any site you visiting. While not always true, there are plenty of instances in which the VPN still knows exactly what sites you are visiting. Again, that isn’t the case with every (good) VPN, but it does happen.
On the other hand, according to Apple, Private Relay “ensures that the traffic leaving your device is encrypted so no one can intercept and read it.” On top of that, Private Relay works through two separate internet relays, which means no one, including Apple, will know your location, IP address or browsing activity. That’s great news for privacy buffs.
At their World Wide Developer Conference, Apple stated that Private Relay goes through dual proxy servers. One of these is owned by Apple and the other by a content provider. Any traffic that is passed through Private Relay is encrypted. The second server doesn’t learn where any of your original data or requests came from. The rest of how Private Relay works gets pretty technical, but, ultimately, what you need to know is that Apple is largely ensuring that any destination you are looking for knows as little about as you as possible.
What Private Relay Is Not
As of right now, Private Relay sounds pretty great. It’s true that we’re putting a lot of stock in the hands of Apple, but they have earned it by digging their heels in on privacy. That’s not to say Private Relay is perfect, as it does have some limitations.
- For starters, Private Relay will not bypass any geographic restrictions. That’s important because it is the main distinction between Private Relay and a VPN. For example, people all over the world use VPNs to access Netflix from outside their country where other content is available. Private Relay doesn’t help with anything like that.
- Anything that is done on a local network, like at work or at school, is not likely to be encrypted. When you use your iPhone or Mac on campus or in an office, there is a good chance that Private Relay won’t be available. This feature is really built for use on public networks. In other words, if your work wants to block Private Relay, it can do so.
- Private Relay is built for web browsing and not much else. That’s not to say that Apple can’t add more features later, but Private Relay is really designed to protect you while you browse the Web. That is mostly true for Safari, at least for now, until we learn if third-party browsers are also going to be able to take advantage of this feature.
- It’s bad news for parents, as Private Relay can jump over any parental controls that are set at the router level. Because traffic leaving your device is encrypted, your router doesn’t know the destination, so it won’t be able to block any unwanted searches by your kids. On the other hand, Private Relay won’t impact Screen Time, so, at the very least, there is still some level of parental support available.
Who Will Be Able to Use Private Relay?
Apple will likely release more details when macOS Monterey and iOS 15 launch, but for now, anyone with an iCloud+ account will be able to use Private Relay. iCloud+ is Apple’s premium subscription for iCloud, and thankfully, it will not require any price increases. If you are currently subscribed to any iCloud plan (50GB and above), you will be able to take advantage of Private Relay. On top of that, iCloud+ subscribers will be able to utilize both Hide My Email and unlimited HomeKit Secure video recording.
As Apple gets closer to launching Private Relay, they have already included some guidance that it will not be available in certain countries. The only reasoning provided was “regulatory limitations.” As of now, those countries include Saudi Arabia, China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Uganda, South Africa, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Additionally, as noted above, right now Private Relay is only expected to be available for Safari. Whether Apple will introduce the feature to third-party browsers like Chrome and Edge remains to be seen.
How to Use Private Relay
To get started, you will need an Apple device running iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and/or macOS Monterey. You will also need a subscription to a current iCloud plan. On the iPhone or iPad, you will go to “Settings -> Apple ID -> iCloud -> Private Relay” and make sure Private Relay is toggled on. On the Mac, you will go to “System Preferences (top-left Apple logo) -> Apple ID -> iCloud” and click on the Private Relay box. iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey are expected to be released this fall.
Even if Private Relay is not for you, it’s hard to doubt that it is doubling down on user privacy. For now, Private Relay sounds fantastic for Apple users. That said, it still needs to be put to the test to see exactly how well it helps. We’ll know that answer soon enough.