Home » Tech » iCloud + Private Relay Explains: It’s Not A VPN!

iCloud + Private Relay Explains: It’s Not A VPN!


The new data protection component will be introduced this fall as a “public beta” feature. […]

(c) Apple

If you downloaded iOS 15, you may have noticed something about your iCloud account. Apple updates all paid iCloud accounts to something it calls iCloud +. It includes several interesting new features in addition to the existing iCloud storage, syncing, and cloud features, but perhaps the most interesting of them is something Apple calls iCloud Private Relay. At first glance, it sounds like a VPN: your internet traffic is encrypted and sent over a relay to hide your exact location, IP address or the content of your internet traffic.

However, it is not a VPN. Not quite. There are important differences that we will describe here. But iCloud Private Relay may be enough for most people, and it gives the most obvious benefits of a VPN to millions of users who would never consider signing up for a VPN. Here’s what this private relay feature is, how it works, and how it differs from a traditional VPN.

Update 09/20/21: Apple officially launched iCloud Private Relay as part of iOS 15 as a public beta version.

How do you turn on iCloud Private Relay?

iCloud Private Relay is a free upgrade in iOS 15 for anyone who pays for iCloud storage either separately or as part of an Apple One package. To activate the feature, open the Settings app and tap the name of your Apple ID at the top. Then tap on iCloud and Private Relay (Beta) and toggle the toggle switch green to enable the feature. You can also choose between two IP address positions: General, so that websites can offer local content in Safari, or broader by country and time zone for more anonymity.

(c) IDG

Was ist iCloud Private Relay?

When Private Relay is enabled, all of your browsing activity in Safari is routed through two internet relay stations. Your data is encrypted and then sent to Apple so that your ISP cannot see any of your web requests. As soon as the Apple proxy server is reached, the DNS request (which points a domain name like macworld.com to a specific server IP address) and the IP address of your iPhone or Mac are separated. Your IP address stays with Apple while your DNS request is encrypted and forwarded to a trusted partner who has the decryption key, along with a fake intermediate IP address based on your approximate location. Apple hasn’t named its partners, but some web noses have found that they’re big internet backbone companies like Akami, Cloudfare, and Fastly.

(c) Apple

This means that Apple knows your IP address but not the name of the websites you visit, and the trusted partner knows the website you are visiting but not your IP address (and therefore not who you are). Neither party can get a complete picture of who you are and where you are going.

The website you visit usually gets your exact IP address and DNS request so it can easily create a pretty detailed profile of who you are, where you are and where you are going online. Combine that with a few cookies, even seemingly harmless ones, and it’s pretty easy to profile, track, track, and sell to advertisers (and others) all of your online activity.

loud Private RelayApple’s two-proxy system makes it very difficult for a company to profile your web activity (c) Apple

iCloud Private Relay ensures that the websites you visit are unaware of this information, so they cannot profile your activity.

The IP addresses that Apple uses in place of your real IP address are still roughly related to your general area. It’s not enough to personally identify you, but it does allow websites that use your IP address to deliver local news, weather, sports, or other information to continue to function properly. There is an option to use an even broader IP address, but that could prevent some of these websites from working properly.

Note that Apple doesn’t allow you to choose an IP address or even a region, and it never makes it appear like you’re from a completely different location. In other words, if you want to use it to access geoblocked content on Netflix or other online services, you’re out of luck.

What’s the difference between iCloud Private Relay and a VPN?

As cool as this private relay feature is, it’s definitely not a VPN. It does a great job of preventing your web activity from being profiled based on your basic connection information. However, it has a number of shortcomings when compared to a real VPN. Some of them are:

It only works with Safari, not any other application or web browser that you use. Technically, it takes in some other DNS information and a small subset of app-related web traffic, but it’s best to think of it as a pure Safari thing.

It is easy to identify as a proxy server that many large networks, e.g. B. in schools or companies, cannot work. Most good VPNs disguise themselves to look like normal non-proxy traffic.

As mentioned earlier, it cannot hide the region you are connecting from, only your specific IP location. So you won’t be able to access content that is blocked for your region or experience websites as if you were connecting from another country.

If all you really want is to prevent websites from profiling you and selling that to advertising agencies and data brokers, then iCloud Private Relay on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac is a great option when it becomes available in fall 2021. It’s quick, easy, and if you’re already paying for any amount of iCloud storage, you get it for free.

If you want real privacy and security for everything you do online, or if you want to access content that is available in countries other than your own, you still need a VPN.

If you downloaded iOS 15, you may have noticed something about your iCloud account. Apple updates all paid iCloud accounts to something it calls iCloud +. It includes several interesting new features in addition to the existing iCloud storage, syncing, and cloud features, but perhaps the most interesting of them is something Apple calls iCloud Private Relay. At first glance, it sounds like a VPN: your internet traffic is encrypted and sent over a relay to hide your exact location, IP address or the content of your internet traffic.

However, it is not a VPN. Not quite. There are important differences that we will describe here. But iCloud Private Relay may be enough for most people, and it gives the most obvious benefits of a VPN to millions of users who would never consider signing up for a VPN. Here’s what this private relay feature is, how it works, and how it differs from a traditional VPN.

Update 20.09.21: Apple officially launched iCloud Private Relay as a public beta version as part of iOS 15.

* Jason Cross has been a professional contributor on technology for over 20 years. His goal is to find out how complicated technologies work and explain them in a way that everyone can understand.

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