iCloud Plus, Apple’s enhanced iCloud subscription service that provides a few crucial privacy safeguards, is one of the more interesting new features introduced with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey. One of the most notable of these capabilities is Private Relay, a VPN-like service designed to hide your internet traffic on your devices from prying eyes.
Here’s how to put it to use:
To get started, you’ll need to be running iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or macOS Monterey, as well as an iCloud plan from Apple. All paid iCloud plans, including the $0.99 per month 50GB plan, as well as shared family iCloud plans and those acquired through a shared Apple One subscription, are eligible.
It’s quite easy to activate a Private Relay.
1 Toggle on the “Private Relay” switch in Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Private Relay on an iPhone or iPad.
2 Go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud on a Mac, and tick the “Private Relay” box.
Unlike most VPNs, Private Relay just has one setting you may change: the location of your IP address. You have two options here: utilize your “general IP address” so that websites may still provide you with approximate location data, or choose a broader IP address in your nation and time zone (which offers greater anonymity at the expense of more accurate online content).
Private Relay, on the other hand, still only allows you to browse the web using your current (approximately) geographic location, so you won’t be able to use it for more common VPN activities like watching Netflix from a foreign country or circumventing local sports blackout laws.
Private Relay, according to Apple, is more secure than a standard VPN because traffic is anonymized twice. When you visit a URL in Safari, it is first transmitted to Apple, which removes your identifying IP address information before sending it to a second server — run by an undisclosed third party — that assigns you a new, temporary IP address. As a result, you can’t be tracked by Apple, the third-party relay company, or the website.
There are some drawbacks to using Private Relay. For starters, China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and the Philippines will be unable to access it. According to Apple, this is due to governmental restrictions in those nations.
Furthermore, Private Relay only works with Safari, not other online browsers or apps, making it a far more limited alternative than other VPN services, especially when combined with the fact that it cannot be used to circumvent geographic restrictions.
However, given that Private Relay is a free add-on for iCloud members, it’s a welcome addition, especially if you’re the type of user who is more concerned with the privacy benefits of a VPN for ordinary web browsing than with more specific VPN use cases. The Safari-only restriction may also encourage consumers to choose Apple’s browser over competitors like Chrome or Firefox.