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What is Apple iCloud Private Relay? Plus how to use it on iOS or Mac

(Pocket-lint) – Apple’s iCloud+ subscription service offers a VPN-like feature called iCloud Private Relay.

Here’s everything you need to know about it.

What is iCloud Private Relay?

On any given day, you may use a variety of networks to browse the web, whether it’s the internet in your own home or public Wi-Fi while you’re out and on the go. Behind the scenes, network providers and websites can combine your identity and browsing history to create detailed profiles about you. To help protect your identity and privacy online (specifically, through the Safari browser), Apple offers iCloud Private Relay through iCloud+.

iCloud Private Relay lets you browse through Safari in what Apple described as “an even more secure and private way”. It ensures the traffic leaving your device is encrypted – so no one can intercept and read it – and it puts all your requests through two separate internet relays. It’s pretty geeky stuff, but the end result is that no one, including Apple, can see who you are or what sites you are visiting. It does this without affecting performance, too.

In other words, iCloud Private Relay is Safari’s built-in virtual private network.

The thing is, Apple has been very careful not to call iCloud Private Relay a VPN. That’s because it’s not as feature-packed as a typical VPN. For example, you can’t use iCloud Private Relay to geo-hop and watch Netflix Canada in the US. However, it can encrypt all your connections, including any legacy connections not using HTTPS, to obscure your real IP address. It also prevents anyone, even Apple, from knowing who you are and where you’re connecting to on the web.

What can iCloud Private Relay do?

iCloud Private Relay lets you choose your IP address location. You can choose your “general IP address” (so that websites can still give you some location data), or you can choose an IP address somewhere in your country and time zone (for more anonymity, but less tailored online content). That means iCloud Private Relays still uses your approximate existing geographic location, so you can’t geo-hop and use it for other VPN activities such as streaming Netflix content from a different country.

However, iCloud Private Relay is actually more secure than a traditional VPN. Apple obfuscates your identifying IP address information and then sends it to a second server to assign a temporary IP address, which means your info is masked twice and neither Apple, the third-party relay company it uses, nor the website you’re visiting can track you.

Are there any other limitations?

To start, it’ll be unavailable in some countries due to “regulatory limitations”. Those countries include China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda. Also, iCloud Private Relay only works with Safari, making it much more limited than other VPN services, because you can’t use it in any browser or app.

Apple

How to use iCloud Private Relay

iCloud Private Relay is a free upgrade in iiOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey for anyone who pays for iCloud storage either separately or as part of an Apple One bundle. To turn it on, head to the Settings app, then tap your Apple ID name at the top. Then tap iCloud and Private Relay (Beta) and flip the toggle green to turn it on.

iPhone or iPad

  1. Go to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > iCloud Private Relay
  2. Toggle on iCloud Private Relay (Beta)

Mac

  1. Go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud
  2. Check the Private Relay (Beta) box, then click Options.
  3. If an Upgrade button appears, click it to upgrade to a plan that includes iCloud+.
    • If requested, enter your Apple ID password and click Continue.
  4. Do any of the following:
    • Turn Private Relay on or off: Click the Turn On or Turn Off button.
    • Select an IP Address Location.
  5. Click OK.

Is iCloud Private Relay free to use?

iCloud Private Relay is included as a free add-on for iCloud+ subscribers.

Apple

What is iCloud+?

With iCloud+, you get access to basic iCloud features – such as Photos, Backup, and iCloud Drive – plus premium features, such as iCloud Private Relay.

These features will be available to all iCloud subscribers, and all iCloud+ plans can be shared with people in the same Family Sharing group. Apple isn’t changing iCloud’s prices either, which makes you wonder why the company came up with a new “iCloud+” name if it costs the same as iCloud and simply adds new features for everyone.

You can learn more about iCloud+ in our separate guide:

When will iCloud Private Relay be available?

If you pay for iCloud storage, then you automatically have access to the extra perks that Apple bundles together under the iCloud+ name – and one of those perks is iCloud Private Relay.

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Writing by Maggie Tillman.

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