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(Pocket-lint) - Apple recently introduced a new iCloud+ subscription service that includes a VPN-like feature called Private Relay. Here's everything you need to know about it.

What is 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. Now, to help protect your identity and privacy online (specifically, through the Safari browser), Apple offers Private Relay through 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, Private relay will be Safari's built-in virtual private network.

The thing is, Apple has been very careful not to call Private Relay a VPN. That's because it's not as feature-packed as a typical VPN. For example, you can't use 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 Private Relay do?

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 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, 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". As of July 2021, those countries include China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda. Also, 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.

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How to use Private Relay

You need an Apple device running iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or macOS Monterey. You also need to subscribe to an iCloud plan. Once you have all that, you can turn on Private Relay.

iPhone or iPad

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

Mac

  1. Go to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud
  2. Check the Private Relay box.

Is Private Relay free to use?

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

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What is iCloud+?

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

These new features will be available to all iCloud subscribers, and all iCloud+ plans can be shared with people in the same Family Sharing group. Apple also 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:

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When will Private Relay be available?

Well, iCloud subscribers will be upgraded to iCloud+ in autumn 2021 when iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey become available. When that happens, you can use Private Relay

Writing by Maggie Tillman. Originally published on 13 July 2021.