What You Need to Know About iCloud Private Relay

When you surf the web, networks and websites can keep tabs on your browsing activities. They can collect data like your IP address, your location, and your DNS records. But if you have an Apple device, there's a new security feature that may help you: iCloud Private Relay, which is a new Apple VPN-like feature that helps you surf online in a more secure way. In this article, learn what iCloud Private Relay is, how it works, and how it's implemented to improve online anonymity.

What is iCloud Private Relay?

iCloud Private Relay is a privacy feature from Apple that allows you to connect to virtually any network and browse with Safari in a more secure and private way. It keeps your browsing activities anonymous, like an Apple VPN. Private Relay works for users with iOS 15 or macOS Monterey or later on their devices. However, users must subscribe to iCloud+ in order to access it.

Most updated Apple devices are compatible with iCloud Private Relay.

Normally, when you browse the Internet, then websites, Internet service providers, and other companies seek to track your online footprints with your IP address, which identifies your location and device. iCloud Private Relay, however, prevents this. It allows Apple users to connect to any network without revealing their actual identity. The technology hides your IP address and browsing activity when you visit the web in Safari, Apple's web browser.

Private Relay is similar to a VPN in that both provide a more secure environment for your daily activity. However, Apple Private Relay won't protect all your traffic. Websites can use other methods, like cookies and fingerprinting, to track you. Therefore, use iCloud Private Relay in conjunction with other privacy-enhancing practices to get the best possible protection.

How does iCloud Private Relay work?

When you browse online, websites and ISPs can gain access to your real IP address, which identifies your geographical location. Additionally, it can show them what sites you visit. They then use this information to build a detailed profile of your location and browsing history.

Apple Private Relay allows users to browse privately by essentially separating this information. It encrypts and routes your Internet traffic through two separate Internet relays. The relay system acts as a connector between your device and the websites you visit.

The first relay assigns the user a temporary IP address that has no link to their actual IP address. This ensures that their online activities can't track back to their identity. The second relay then decrypts the user's traffic and sends it to its original destination.

In short, one relay hides your IP address - and thus your identity - while the other hides your DNS records, which reveals your activity.

This two-step process helps to protect users' privacy. Once you turn it on, no single entity can see both who you are and what sites you visit - including Apple.

iCloud Private Relay privacy features

With iCloud Private Relay, Apple has introduced its most significant internal privacy feature since the launch of its original products. But what makes Apple Private Relay so secure? It includes several key features that take it a step up from standard browsing. The three key features of iCloud Private Relay are end-to-end encryption, IP address masking, and a lack of third-party tracking.

End-to-end encryption

iCloud Private Relay on iPhone ensures end-to-end encryption of your data by providing an additional layer of security. This means that your data is encrypted from the moment it leaves your device until it reaches your destination. Even Apple can't decrypt your data, ensuring that your privacy is protected.

IP address masking

When you browse the web or use apps, your IP address is hidden. It gets replaced with a temporary IP to protect your browsing history from tracking.

Apple Private Relay uses advanced IP routing algorithms to prevent targeted advertising. With IP address masking, your personal information is better protected.

No third-party tracking

iCloud Private Relay ensures that user data is protected from third-party tracking. By encrypting the user's Internet traffic through two separate relays, iCloud Private Relay prevents third parties from tracking and profiling users.

With iCloud Private Relay enabled, users can browse the Internet knowing that their online activities are anonymous.

What's compatible with iCloud Private Relay?

Private Relay is compatible with a range of Apple devices that run specific operating system versions, are tied to an Apple ID, and have an iCloud+ subscription.

Supported devices

iCloud Private Relay is available on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey. This privacy-enhancing feature is therefore compatible with all devices that support these operating systems or higher, including iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.

Supported browsers and apps

All apps that use the standard networking protocols supported by iCloud Private Relay can benefit from its enhanced privacy features. These include popular apps like Safari, Mail, and Maps, as well as third-party apps that adhere to the necessary protocols.

Integration with Apple services

iCloud Private Relay seamlessly integrates with various Apple services, which boosts privacy across the board. When using iCloud Private Relay, all network traffic from supported apps and services that typically don't encrypt traffic is routed through Apple's network of relay servers.

Benefits of Private Relay

Why should you start using Private Relay? Some of the reasons you might use Private Relay on your iPhone, iPad, or Apple computer are:

  • It's built into iOS devices. iCloud Private Relay is built into Apple devices, so there is no need to download or install any additional app. It's therefore accessible to everyone who uses Apple products.
  • It masks your IP address. This makes it difficult for ISPs and websites to monitor your online movements.
  • It improves your performance. Private Relay can cache frequently-accessed content, which cuts back on loading times.
  • You can easily use it. iCloud Private Relay is easy to use; simply enable it on your device's settings and you're ready to use it.
  • It allows users to create an anonymous email address. Customers can create an anonymous email address for signing up for services without revealing their true email address, which then mitigates spam.
  • It encrypts your DNS traffic. Private Relay encrypts your DNS traffic, making it so that no one can see which websites you're trying to visit.

Many see this security measures as a smart move for personal data privacy. Though the feature is currently in beta, Apple is actively improving it, and users can expect to see more benefits added in the future.

Disadvantages of Private Relay

Though Apple Private Relay is a compelling feature, it isn't perfect. Consider the following disadvantages of Apple's new security feature.

  • It only works with Safari. Unlike a traditional VPN, iCloud Private Relay by design works exclusively with the Safari web browser. This means your traffic lacks protection in other browsers, like Chrome or Firefox.
  • It's not available in all countries. The availability of iCloud Private Relay might be subject to regional restrictions. It's not available in countries like Belarus, China, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, and the Philippines. If you travel to these regions, it can't protect your traffic.
  • Some websites block it. Older or smaller websites don't yet support the security protocol, meaning they may end up blocking your traffic.
  • It may slow down your browsing. You may encounter slower browsing times with Private Relay because it encrypts your traffic and routes it through multiple servers.

Is iCloud Private Relay a VPN?

Apple's Private Relay isn't a VPN. However, it works similarly to a VPN in some aspects, such as in the way it encrypts internal traffic and conceals your IP address.

It lacks plenty of security features, however, that a VPN would provide.

Consider the following differences between iCloud Private Relay vs. VPN services.

  • A VPN encrypts all information. When you use a VPN, it encrypts all the data sent from your device regardless of which app you use. In contrast, Private Relay is a built-in feature that encrypts your Safari traffic. If you don't use Safari as your default browser, it doesn't cover your online activity.
  • Private Relay doesn't allow geoblocking. With a standalone VPN, you can choose an IP address from almost any country, but Private Relay does not offer the same benefits.
  • Encrypted web traffic can be identifiable. Most VPNs come with obfuscated servers that are responsible for disguising your data as normal web traffic. Data sent from your device under Private Relay has no disguise, so websites may see the traffic coming through the exit server.
  • A VPN is a third-party app or service. Private Relay is a built-in feature on Apple devices, whereas VPNs are third-party apps.

How to set up Private Relay on iPhone and iPad

To set up Private Relay on an iPhone or iPad, follow these steps.

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Tap on your iCloud account or name and enable iCloud.
  3. Tap Private Relay.
  4. Toggle it on.
  5. Click IP Address Location to configure your Private Relay settings.

How to set up Private Relay on Mac

To set up Private Relay on Mac, follow these steps.

  1. Go to the Apple menu.
  2. Select System Preferences.
  3. Find and select iCloud.
  4. Look for the Private Relay option and click on it.
  5. Configure your Private Relay settings.

Frequently asked questions

What is mask.icloud.com?

Mask.icloud.com is a domain used to hide your IP address and web browsing information for the Private Relay.

What is Apple VPN?

Apple VPN is Apple's Private Relay, which is similar to a VPN in that it encrypts your Internet traffic and hides your IP address.

Is Private Relay free?

No. Private Relay requires a paid iCloud+ account.

Can you run Private Relay and a VPN at the same time?

Yes, but it's not recommended. Private Relay can cause problems with your Internet connection if you run both, making it hard to access certain websites.