Apple's forthcoming Private Relay feature in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey is a boon for privacy, but right now it won't always play nice with other VPNs. Here's what you can do about it.
No question, Private Relay is an excellent feature in iOS 15, macOS Monterey, and iCloud+. Unless perhaps you're an advertiser, or you happen to live in Belarus, but otherwise it is a tool that will invisibly protect all users.
Apple makes a point of saying that while this prevents sites from tracking you and your location, it isn't a VPN. On the face of it, the difference is only that when a VPN disguises your location for privacy reasons, you can also spoof which country you appear to be in.
So Private Relay won't let you see your US Netflix account when you're travelling in Europe, for instance. Sites may never know where you are, but they know the right region specifically so they can provide the correct geo-locked service.
None of which would matter, except that sometimes you want to use a full VPN — and sometimes corporations require their staff to use one.
At present, Private Relay is only available to paying iCloud users who are on the beta of the forthcoming iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey. By the time the final version of the feature is available around September time, Private Relay may have fixed the issue.
And VPN providers should have updated to cope with Private Relay — if they even need to update anything.
What's supposed to happen
Developers who provide apps such as VPNs take your network requests and anonymize or alter them as they pass through their own servers. If the developers are already using Apple's networking APIs — URLSession and NWConnection — they don't have to change anything.
Such apps use what's called a Network Extension, and when data is sent via that, and via these APIs, Private Relay switches off to allow it. The idea is that the user has made a positive choice to turn on a VPN, so Apple steps back.
However, during the beta process, we've been seeing some VPNs refuse to run because, they claim, you already have one on.
It's not clear how widespread this is. Just by chance of which tests AppleInsider has been doing, the issue has come up on the Mac. And the answer on both Mac and iOS, is to temporarily turn off Private Relay
How to turn off Private Relay on macOS Monterey
- Open System Preferences
- Click on Apple ID at the top of the screen
- Choose iCloud
- Now tick to turn Private Relay off
How to turn off Private Relay on iOS
- Open Settings
- Tap on your name at the top of the screen
- Choose iCloud
- Now tap on Private Relay
- Tap to turn off Private Relay
- Click on Turn off Private Relay to confirm
- Click on OK
Note that this setting is not available if you're solely using the free iCloud storage that comes with your Apple ID. If you currently pay anything for iCloud, then you will see it in the beta of iOS 15.
No later than the final public release of iOS 15, your paid iCloud account will be renamed as iCloud+ and so you may see that title in the settings.
Other Private Relay options
Clearly, to switch Private Relay back on, you just go through the same steps and make the opposite decision at the end. However, there is a little more you can do.
On both Mac and iOS, in the section where you can turn Private Relay on or off, there is currently an extra section headed IP Address Location.
There are two choices here, with the default being Maintain General Location. The alternative is Use Country and Time Zone.
Both are to do with how much Private Relay hides you, and it's possible that for most users there isn't going to be a gigantic difference.
With Maintain General Location selected, a site you access will not get your actual IP address, your actual location, but it will be pretty close. Apple seemingly has not said yet exactly what pretty close means, yet it's a fair bet that you'll be narrowed down to your nearest town or city.
With Use Country and Time Zone, you won't be pinned down to a town, it will be that much broader.
It's this will make a difference. If you're in the US on, say, Eastern Time, then you might be anywhere from Florida to Maine. Different states might have different rules for who can access their systems, for instance.
That's not very likely as state departments know people travel around. And it's when you're away from home that you might most need to do something on their systems.
But it could happen and this is presumably why Apple defaults to Use Country and Time Zone.
Still in beta
Private Relay isn't finished and won't be until it's finally released. Right now, in the beta process, you can see how Apple is even altering and improving how it describes Private Relay in Settings.
Where that is making it clearer what the benefits are, and what your choices can be, you can be certain that its very features are being worked on.
Still, Private Relay is very good. And Focus Mode is tremendous. Apple is making the beta releases very tempting.
Resist anyway. Great new features are not worth a thing if a beta bricks your iPhone or Mac.
So as hard as it is to resist, September isn't that far away. Honest.
Keep up with everything Apple in the weekly AppleInsider Podcast — and get a fast news update from AppleInsider Daily. Just say, "Hey, Siri," to your HomePod mini and ask for these podcasts, and our latest HomeKit Insider episode too. If you want an ad-free main AppleInsider Podcast experience, you can support the AppleInsider podcast by subscribing for $5 per month through Apple's Podcasts app, or via Patreon if you prefer any other podcast player.
Keep up with everything Apple in the weekly AppleInsider Podcast — and get a fast news update from AppleInsider Daily. Just say, "Hey, Siri," to your HomePod mini and ask for these podcasts, and our latest HomeKit Insider episode too.
If you want an ad-free main AppleInsider Podcast experience, you can support the AppleInsider podcast by subscribing for $5 per month through Apple's Podcasts app, or via Patreon if you prefer any other podcast player.