During its annual Worldwide Developers Conference last month, Apple unveiled a ton of new features coming to iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and other platforms and if you even had a remote idea about any of them, you will realize that user privacy was of utmost importance. The Cupertino giant is bringing several privacy-focused improvements to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS and one such addition to debut this fall for everyone is Private Relay – a privacy setting that will allow users to connect to websites more securely.
Today, we’re taking a look at what Private Relay is all about, how it works, and how you can use it on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
What is Private Relay by Apple?
Apple has introduced a new privacy measure that’s meant to help users browse the web more securely. Labeled as Private Relay, the new feature would encrypt your browsing data in such a way that no one between Apple, your service provider, or the website you visit can know what you’re accessing.
The company says the feature boosts your privacy as none of the entities involves in getting you from your browser to a particular website knows both who you are and what sites you’re visiting. Private Relay will be available for iCloud+ users on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monteray.
How does Private Relay work?
Private Relay uses dual-hop architecture which works by creating two “relays” or paths for your browsing data so that all your traffic remains encrypted.
The first of the two relays first encrypts your browser data and sends your request to Apple’s proxy server. When your request reaches Apple’s servers, it is separated from your actual IP address as Apple allocates a new anonymous IP address for you. This way Apple only has information on what your IP address is.
The IP address that’s assigned to you will be based on the approximate location you’re in and not your exact geo-coordinates. The new IP address is randomized in such a way that your network carrier isn’t able to see anything that you’re browsing.
The second relay involves your DNS request reaching Apple’s “trusted partner” who decrypts the web address of what you’re trying to access and then redirects you to the destination. This “trusted partner” is then able to connect you to the website you were searching for and all this happens in fractions of a second. It’s believed that DNS proxy providers Cloudflare, Fastly, and Akami are some of the companies that Apple has partnered with to send encrypted data for it to be decrypted.
By using Private Relay:
- Apple only gets your IP address and NOT what you’re browsing
- Apple’s trusted partners know what sites are being accessed and NOT your IP address.
- Neither Apple nor its trusted partners can get a complete idea of your identity and what you’re browsing.
How is Private Relay useful?
On a regular day (that’s without Private Relay), all the websites you go to can see what you’re visiting as well as your IP address. Because of this, websites and companies can build an online profile for you, with your browsing habits, IP address, and a list of other websites you visit, leaving you and your data vulnerable to advertisers and other companies.
When Private Relay is enabled, none of your online activity can be traced back to you. This essentially prevents any website or company from building profiles for when you’re browsing the web. You might still get ads when visiting websites on Safari but you will start noticing lesser ads that are targeted based on your interests and location.
Is Private Relay a VPN?
If you have heard about IP address scrambling and data encryption before, you may think that Private Relay sounds a lot like a VPN service but is it? NO, Private Relay isn’t a VPN service by any stretch.
There only two key similarities between Private Relay and VPN:
- Your online activity is encrypted: Both VPN and Private Relay ensure that your public IP is encrypted, meaning no single entity knows who you are and what you’re seeing.
- You are assigned a new IP address: Both services give you a new IP address to browse the web, thus preventing websites from knowing your actual IP address and locate your whereabouts.
Here’s how Private Relay differs from a traditional VPN service:
- Browsing on Private Relay happens on multiple servers: When you’re using a VPN service, all of your activity is happening in a single server; so if someone has access to a VPN’s server, they’ll be able to see your online activity. Since Apple’s feature uses two “relays”, no other entity, not even Apple, will be able to track your online activity back to you.
- You can choose an IP address between approximate or broader regions but cannot switch to a specific location like on VPN: Most VPNs allow users to apply a VPN address from a specific region to bypass regional geo-blocks. If you use a paid VPN service, you may easily be able to switch your IP address between different countries and access Netflix or other geo-restricted content. Apple’s Private Relay only allows you to set an IP address that’s either from your approximate location or your country/timezone. You don’t get the option to select an IP address from a specific region on your own; Apple generates one for you. This means you won’t be able to use Netflix US if you’re in the UK.
- Private Relay only works on Safari: Almost all major VPN services have a standalone app that you can use to apply VPN across all of your apps and services on your phone. Unfortunately, Apple only uses Private Relay when browsing websites on Safari and not on any other browser or app on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. All other apps on your device will continue to access your original IP address without any kind of masking.
- You may not be able to use Private Relay on School or Work networks: Many schools and businesses allow connections to their network unless you’re connecting to them using a proxy server. Since Apple’s Private Relay is basically some kind of a proxy server, you might find it hard to use your device when connected to your school or workplace’s network. VPN apps, on the other hand, are known to dodge this problem as they can conceal their connection to look like a normal one.
What is Private Relay Apple ID
Alongside Private Relay, Apple also introduced Hide My Email on iOS 15 – a feature that lets users keep their email addresses hidden from apps and websites that require you to provide one when signing up. For this feature to work, Apple generates a new and private email address that you can use to receive emails from these apps and websites or block them when you don’t want to see them anymore.
In addition to letting you create multiple ‘Hide My Email’ addresses that end with “@iCloud.com”, Apple also creates individual email addresses for when you’re using Hide My Email to sign up for apps and websites that support signing in with Apple.
When you use the ‘Hide My Email’ feature for signing in using your Apple account, emails from these services will be forwarded to you via different email addresses that end with “@privaterelay.appleid.com”. Apple calls this the private relay email service and the “@privaterelay.appleid.com” that’s created will be the email address that will be shared with a website or app you sign in to and the service won’t have access to your actual email address.
A single “@privaterelay.appleid.com” email address will be shared across several apps created by the same developer. However, you may see multiple “@privaterelay.appleid.com” addresses if you’re signing in to different websites and apps that aren’t linked to one another. You can choose to not receive future emails from an app or website by turning off email forwarding on a service inside ‘Hide my email’.
Which apps can I use Private Relay in?
Unlike VPN apps, Apple’s Private Relay service can only be used on Safari. Although Private Relay is integrated system-wide, the new privacy measure will only be activated if you’re visiting websites on Apple’s own Safari browser.
This means, any data used by apps on WiFi or mobile data will remain unaffected and both the apps and your network provider will be able to able to access your IP Address.
What do you need to use Private Relay?
You can use Private Relay on iPhone, iPad, or Mac only if you satisfy the following requirements:
- You have a device running iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or macOS Monteray: Private Relay is only available for iPhones, iPads, and Macs running the latest version of Apple’s operating system iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monteray. iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monteray are currently only available as developer/public betas on select iPhones, iPads, and Mac. Unless you’re absolutely okay with running into bugs and issues on your device, we’d advise against installing the beta software, at least for now. If your device is running iOS 14, iPadOS 14, or older versions, you won’t be able to access the feature on it.
- You are subscribed to Apple’s iCloud+ service: Apple is offering the ‘Private Relay’ feature as part of its privacy-focused services coming to its iCloud+ subscription. You can upgrade your Apple ID account to iCloud+ for as low as $0.99/month and in addition to the ‘Private Relay’ feature, you get access to Hide My Email, more storage, and HomeKit secure video service.
How to get Private Relay by upgrading your Apple ID account to iCloud+
Since you need an iCloud+ subscription to use Private Relay, you can follow the steps below to set up iCloud+ on your iPhone/iPad. For this, open the Settings app on your device and tap on your Apple ID card at the top.
This will take you to your Apple ID screen. Here, scroll down and tap on the ‘iCloud’ option.
Inside iCloud, select the ‘Manage Storage’ option under ‘Storage’.
You will now be taken to the iCloud Storage screen that will show you the space occupied by everything on your iCloud. On this screen, select the ‘Change Storage Plan’ at the top.
A new popup will show all the iCloud+ options available to you along with their prices. Select the plan that suits your requirement and then tap on the ‘Upgrade Storage’ option at the bottom.
In the next step, you will need to authenticate your purchase either using your Apple ID password, Touch ID, or Face ID.
Once your payment has been processed, you should see a “You’re All Set” message along with the list of additional options you have unlocked with iCloud+.
You can now start using Private Relay by following any of the steps provided below.
How to Enable Private Relay on iPhone/iPad
Private Relay is inbuilt inside your iPhone’s or iPad’s iCloud settings and you can enable the feature on your device if you have fulfilled the above requirements. To get started, open the Settings app on your device and then tap on your Apple ID card at the top.
Inside the Apple ID screen, tap on the ‘iCloud’ option.
When the iCloud screen appears, select ‘Private Relay’.
You should be greeted with Private Relay screen. Here, tap on the toggle adjacent to ‘Private Relay’ to turn it on.
When you enable Private Relay, you should be able to see a banner appear at the top of your screen saying “Private Relay is Active”.
How to Change your IP address location
By default, Apple assigns you an IP address that’s randomly generated based on your approximate location instead of your actual IP address can be used to pinpoint your exact location. This way, the apps or websites you access can still give you region-specific updates like weather or news without knowing your exact whereabouts.
However, you can protect your privacy by requesting Apple to choose an IP address that’s from a broader region like the country you reside in or places within the same timezone. To do this, head over to the Private Relay section by going to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Private Relay.
Inside the Private Relay screen, tap on the ‘IP address Location’ option.
On the next screen, select the ‘Use Country and Time Zone’ option so that Apple chooses an IP address from a broader area.
You have to note that it’s Apple who allots you an IP address on both occasions and unlike traditional VPNs, you don’t get an option to choose an IP address from a specific region.
How to Enable Private Relay inside Safari
Although Private Relay can be enabled inside iCloud Settings, users can customize how it works when you’re browsing websites on Safari. You can turn on Private Relay on Safari by opening the Settings app on iOS or iPadOS and then selecting ‘Safari’.
Inside Safari, scroll down and tap on the ‘Hide IP Address’ option under ‘Privacy & Security’.
On the next screen, you can choose ‘Trackers and Websites’ for full protection and this prevents both trackers and the websites you visit from seeing your actual IP address.
If you’re having problems with some websites you’re accessing, you can select ‘Trackers’ instead. This way trackers won’t have access to your IP address but the websites will.
That’s all there is to know about Private Relay on iOS 15.
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