Last Updated on July 8, 2021 by Calvin C.
Is iCloud Private Relay a VPN? Quick answer is no. While Apple took a step in the right direction by launching iCloud+ Private Relay, don’t cancel your VPN service yet.
The new service from Apple was announced in June 2021 at the World Developer Conference.
What is iCloud Private Relay?
Apple has iCloud, a cloud storage service that it offers to its users, and iCloud+, a paid option with extra features.
As part of iCloud+, Apple added iCloud Private Relay for extra security and privacy.
You need to upgrade to iOS 15 in order to access the Private Relay option in the iCloud Settings menu.
According to Apple, this new additional feature is described as follows:
“iCloud Private Relay is a service that lets you connect to virtually any network and browse with Safari in an even more secure and private way. It ensures that the traffic leaving your device is encrypted so no one can intercept and read it. Then all your requests are sent through two separate internet relays. It’s designed so that no one — including Apple — can use your IP address, location, and browsing activity to create a detailed profile about you.”
Sounds like a VPN, right? Well, this service only works with Safari so it is more of a proxy than a VPN.
In other words, it’s not a new feature in browsers as other rivals have already rolled out their own versions, e.g. Opera has Opera VPN which is free.
When you use iCloud Private Relay, your data is encrypted and routed via 2 proxy servers.
Once traffic reaches Apple servers, your IP address is retained by Apple while your DNS request is passed to the next servers owned by trusted partners.
The partners have a decryption key and only get a fake IP address so that your location remains hidden.
Therefore, Apple can see your IP address, not the sites you visit while the partners can see the sites you visit, not your actual IP address.
- The secret partners have been unmasked as Akami, Cloudfare and Fastly.
After the decryption, the website you want to visit only gets a fake IP address and your actual DNS request.
Your ISP is also not able to see what you are up to and that gives you extra privacy.
This double-hop configuration by iCloud Private Relay prevents websites from building a profile of your internet activity.
Some sites need your actual IP address to deliver accurate data e.g. news and weather sites, so to maintain that Apple changes your IP address to one that is in close proximity.
If you wan’t more privacy, you can also opt for broader IP addresses, but this may cause these sites to provide inaccurate data or work incorrectly.
However, you can’t use iCloud Private Relay to choose an IP address on your own, so you can’t change your country or region.
This comes as a blow to Apple users because you can’t use this feature to bypass geoblocks e.g. watching Netflix from any region.
What is the difference between iCloud Private Relay and a VPN?
From the above description, you can clearly see that while iCloud Private Relay has some of the features of a VPN, it lacks most of its features.
One of the major drawbacks is that it only secures traffic from Safari browser, not from other apps and this poses a challenge because most of internet activities are app driven.
Here is a quick look at the pros and cons:
|Feature||iCloud Private Relay||VPN|
|Hide IP address on Safari browser||Yes||Yes|
|Protects Safari browser traffic on public WiFi||Yes||Yes|
|Hide IP address on all browsers||No||Yes|
|Protects all browser traffic on public WiFi||No||Yes|
|Hides IP address on all apps||No||Yes|
|Protects traffic on all apps||No||Yes|
|Protects you from DDoS attacks||No||Yes|
|Has no logs policy||No||Yes|
iCloud Private Relay is a good feature when browsing the internet using Safari, but if you want maximum security and privacy, nothing is going to beat a premium VPN.
These are the top VPNs you can use:
1. NordVPN – Best for security (Editor’s Choice)
- 30-day money-back guarantee
- 68% off a 2-year plan
2. Surfshark VPN – Low cost VPN
- All standard features at a fraction of a cost
- 83% off a 2-year plan
- Strictly no logs policy
- No DNS leaks
3. CyberGhost VPN – User friendly VPN
- Widespread coverage
- Strong anonymity while browsing
- 83% off a 3-year plan
- 45-day money-back guarantee
If you are a user of Cloud+, you may as well activate iCloud Private Relay when using Safari especially with public WiFi.
However, it’s not going to outclass the VPNs above in terms of security and privacy because it is a proxy
You can read more about the differences between a proxy and a VPN here.
What do you think about iCloud Private Relay? Leave a comment below and share the article with your friends.