One of the more interesting new features available with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey is iCloud Plus, Apple’s upgraded iCloud subscription service that adds a few key privacy features. Chief among those features is Private Relay, a VPN-like service that’s designed to mask your internet traffic on your devices from anyone trying to snoop in.
Here’s how to use it:
To start, you’ll have to be using iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or macOS Monterey and be a subscriber to one of Apple’s iCloud plans. All paid iCloud plans — including the $0.99-per-month 50GB plan — are eligible, as are shared family iCloud plans or ones purchased through a shared Apple One subscription.
Turning on Private Relay is extremely simple.
- On an iPhone or iPad, head to Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Private Relay and then toggle on the “Private Relay” switch
- On a Mac, head to System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud, and check the box labeled “Private Relay”
Unlike most VPNs, Private Relay only offers one configurable option: the ability to choose your IP address location. Apple gives you two choices here: you can use your “general IP address” so that websites can still give you approximate location data, or you can choose a broader IP address somewhere in your country and time zone (which offers greater anonymity at the expense of more accurate online content).
Notably, though, Private Relay still only lets you navigate the web through your existing (rough) geographic location, so you can’t use it for more popular VPN activities — like streaming Netflix content from a different country or skirting local sports blackout rules.
Apple says Private Relay is actually more secure than a traditional VPN, noting that traffic is masked twice. When you navigate to a URL in Safari, it’s first sent to Apple, which strips out your identifying IP address information, and then sends it on to a second server — maintained by an as-yet-unidentified third party — to assign a new, temporary IP address. The net result is that neither Apple, the third-party relay company, nor the website can track you.
There are some limitations to Private Relay. To begin, it’ll be unavailable in a number of countries: China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and the Philippines. Apple tells Reuters this is due to regulatory limitations in those countries.
In addition, Private Relay only works with Safari — not other web browsers or apps — making it a far more limited option than other VPN services, especially when combined with the fact that it can’t be used for dodging geographic location limits.
But considering Private Relay is included as a free add-on for iCloud subscribers, it’s a nice addition, especially if you’re the kind of user who is more interested in the privacy benefits of a VPN for regular web browsing than more specific VPN use cases. The Safari-only limitation could help push users toward using Apple’s browser over competitors like Chrome or Firefox, too.