Apple introduced a ton of new privacy features during WWDC 21 that are aimed at strengthening users’ online privacy on mobile and also on the web. To prevent users’ data from landing in the wrong hands, Apple offers a new iCloud Private Relay feature as part of its updated iCloud+ subscription.
The new feature has VPN-like capabilities like making sure a user’s web-browsing traffic is encrypted and sent through a relay to hide their exact location, IP, or the contents of their browsing traffic. But there are some distinct differences between a VPN and Private Relay which we will be discussing in this post.
Apple’s iCloud+ subscription comes with a VPN called Private Relay
The feature is very easy to find and enable: after updating to iOS 15 > iCloud Settings menu > Private Relay. Simply turn on the feature and it will activate, assuming that you are a paid iCloud member, therefore, having access to iCloud+ service. The IP Address Location setting lets you preserve your relative location, but most users can dismiss that.
Once you have enabled Private Relay, all of your browsing activity in Safari will be routed to two internet relays. First, data is encrypted and then sent to Apple. At Apple’s proxy server, the DNS request and your device’s IP address are separated. Afterward, your IP is returned to Apple whereas your DNS request is forwarded to a trusted partner in possession of the decryption key, as well as a fake intermediary IP address based on your relative location.
Meaning that with Private Relay, your IP address is visible to Apple but not the names of the websites you are surfing, and the additional partner can see the websites you are visiting but not your IP. Both parties cannot combine the pieces and figure out your identity since both of them have half the piece.
The difference between Private Relay and a VPN is that the former will carry out the duties of securing your identity from profiling based on your web activity, and it only works on Safari. Most VPNs hide themselves to look like regular non-proxy traffic, and Private Relay is identified as a proxy server. Lastly, the feature can hide your specific IP location but not the region you are connecting from which means that you cannot access blocked content in your region or access websites from another region like you can with a VPN.
For users who want to stop websites from profiling you and tracking you across platforms, iCloud+ Private Relay is the best option for them. You can access it once it is made available this fall for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.