How Apple’s iCloud Private Relay can protect you

If you pay for iCloud storage, then you automatically have access to the additional benefits that Apple combines under the name iCloud + – and one of those benefits is the iCloud Private Relay service.

If you open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad, tap your name at the top and then select iCloud, you must have access to a Private relay (beta) a switch that you can turn on or off. It is also under Apple ID and iCloud in MacOS System Preferences. However, there is not a huge amount of information next to the switch to tell you what it is and how it works.

This is what we will do here with the help of the new documentation that Apple has published about the intricacies of iCloud Private Relay. By the time you finish reading, you need to know if this is a feature you need.

Keeping your internet activity private

Enable iCloud Private Relay on iPhone.

Photo: Apple through David Nild

As you’ll see in the companion ad, when you turn on the feature, iCloud Private Relay “keeps your Internet activity private” – and does so in several ways. One way is to hide your IP address from the websites you visit: Your IP address shows where in the world you are connected to the network and is one of the key pieces of information that sites and merchants use to find out who you are.

When iCloud Private Relay is enabled, you have two choices when it comes to IP addresses. You can continue to track your overall location (which city you’re closest to, more or less) – so that local data, such as the weather forecast, is still displayed correctly – or you can become more obscure and you only report your country and time zone to websites that require it.

As an added boost, the service encrypts your data as it leaves your device, which means no one can eavesdrop on your communications digitally. Many websites and apps already take care of this by default, but when there are gaps, iCloud Private Relay will fill them. This means that everything you enter in a form in a web browser, from searches to addresses, is kept out of prying eyes.

Finally, iCloud Private Relay also keeps your DNS (Domain Name System) secret – essentially the websites you search for on your device. As with IP addresses, this data can be used to create an account of who you are and what you care about, which in turn can be sold to advertisers. With iCloud Private Relay enabled, this is much harder for companies.

How it works

iCloud Private Relay directs your traffic through two relays.

Illustration: Apple

iCloud Private Relay implements what Apple calls the “dual-hop” architecture – there are two stops or relays between your device and the Internet. One stop is operated by Apple, where the IP address is visible, but the name of the website you are visiting is encrypted; the second stop is managed by Apple’s “third-party partners” and knows the website you are visiting, but not your IP address (it is responsible for assigning a new IP address to you).

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