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How to use Private Relay in iOS 15

The latest versions of iOS 15 have finally introduced Apple’s interesting new privacy option called Private Relay. This is an excellent feature for users who are a little edgy about Apple or providers reaping data on their internet activities, and it can be enabled completely for free. Here’s what you should know about the service and how to turn it on!

What does Private Relay do?

iCloud+ Private Relay.

It’s like a mini-VPN that uses iCloud to protect your online privacy. ISPs (internet service providers) can generally track your IP address and your DNS records to learn about where you are from and how you are using the internet. Websites that use tracking cookies and other tools can do the same thing. Over time, this information can be used to put together a profile on your behavior that’s associated with your specific address or even your identity.

Obviously, many users would prefer to avoid this type of tracking. While a VPN can provide this kind of encryption, it’s another app to manage, often with a subscription fee, and can even slow down your internet at times. Private Relay is an Apple alternative that can work on all Apple Devices and provides some of the benefits with fewer downsides.

When you turn on Private Relay, your internet communication is sent through two separate, encrypted relays. The first keeps DNS records from being monitored, which prevents anyone from seeing what website you are visiting. The second helps generate a temporary IP address. Combined, not even Apple can see your address or where you are going online.

Step 1: Make sure you have the right updates

Shareplay menu in iOS 15
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Private Relay is a relatively new feature and is currently available only with the latest updates. Your first step is to update all your Apple devices with it. Upgrade to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and MacOS Monterey before you do anything else.

Note that there are still some limitations in using Private Relay. It only works in a limited number of countries, and it only affects Safari for now, not other browsers.

Step 2: Make sure you’re subscribed to Cloud+

Use 3D Touch to open iCloud.
Jeffrey Van Camp/Digital Trends

You’ll have to subscribe to iCloud+ to use Private Relay, so make sure you’re signed up before you check out the settings. Check out our guide to all the iCloud subscriptions on offer, and pick the one that’s right for you. Once you’ve signed up for iCloud+, you’re ready to go to the next step.

Step 3: Head to iCloud settings

Selecting iOS Settings app.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Let’s take a look at mobile devices, where Private Relay is a particularly effective alternative to a VPN. Log in to your home screen, and head to the Settings app with its gears-like icon.

Double-check that you are signed into the right Apple account, then select your Name/Account icon at the top of Settings.

Step 4: Enable Private Relay

Choose iCloud in your iOS account settings.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Select iCloud when you reach your account information. In the various iCloud settings, look for the option that says Private Relay (Beta) and choose it.

Find and enable Private Relay in iPad settings.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You will now see an option to enable Private Relay, so make sure that it is turned on here.

Turn on Private Relay.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

When you enable Private Relay, you will also see another option pop up called IP Address Location. If you head to this menu, you’ll notice two different options: One to Maintain General Location and one to Use Country and Time Zone.

Choose your preferred Private Relay regional option.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Maintain General Location is the default setting and supplies Safari with some clues about what region you are in. It’s not entirely clear how specific this is, but it’s designed to allow Safari to provide local content, like more accurate local search and ads. It’s safe to say that Safari will have a good idea of what city you are in if you leave this setting on.

If that makes you uncomfortable, you can switch to Use Country and Time Zone. As the name implies, this restricts your location data to only your country and the time zone you are in. As we mentioned, that’s not as good as a VPN that can easily mask your location and allow you to pick an origin from servers around the world, but it’s also a lot better than nothing if you want to keep your browsing information from being collected.

Are you on a Mac?

New iCloud features on a Mac.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Don’t worry, it’s easy to enable Private Relay here, too. Instead of going to settings, you’ll want to find the similar System Preferences instead, which is usually located in your Dock or can be searched for with Spotlight.

Then, select your Apple ID > iCloud > Private Relay. Here, you will find the same options that are available in iOS.

When to disable Private Relay

You can disable Private Relay just as easily (Apple will give you a brief warning), and there are times when you may want to do this. For example, certain websites may not work properly with the setting turned on. Some services designed to track, audit, or filter internet information may not work at all with Private Relay enabled. Certain businesses may also prefer you use their own VPN rather than turn on Private Relay.

Wi-Fi Settings Private Relay iPadOS.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Fortunately, it’s also possible to customize the service to whitelist specific Wi-Fi networks so they won’t use Private Relay, but it will be enabled elsewhere. Go to Settings, select Wi-Fi, and choose the small blue “i” icon next to your connected network. Here you will see an option called iCloud Private Relay that you can enable or disable as you choose.

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