With iOS 15 Apple is rolling out their Privacy Relay and iCloud+. The big questions are what is it and how much, if any, privacy can be given back to the user.
At first read, Privacy Relay sounds a little like a VPN or even like TOR.
So first things first, Privacy Relay is not an VPN. A VPN, is a 'Man in the Middle' that protects the sites you visit from your ISP and the sites you actually visit can only be seen by the IP address of your VPN provider. It also should encrypt your traffic.
However, whilst this is all theoretically true, the real problem is always logs. Most VPN providers claiming they do not have logs, but if you understand how VPN work, there actually need to be some logs, or the VPN couldn't actually let you log in, but let's assume the logs get cleared fast or even instantly and give some VPN providers the benefit of the doubt.
I want to point out my opinion on VPN, use it to watch football, but do not trust it to make you disappear and be untraceable. You just relay your trust and browsing history from your ISP to the VPN provider. This, of course, can help and there are some VPN providers that have been audited and pass the standards, but a VPN as powerful as it can be, it can also turn out to be a weak link. Do your research and don't trust the next blog that says NordVPN or Express are the best and safest VPNs. They probably pay the best referral commissions, but that should already get your guard up.
Moving on, Apple is claiming on iCloud+ Privacy Relay
“ensures that the traffic leaving your device is encrypted so no one can intercept and read it.”
Moreover, the Privacy Relay works through two separate internet relays, which according to Apple means no-one including Apple will know your IP address or browsing history.
That's quite a claim from Apple! At the Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple stated that iCloud Privacy Relay goes through dual proxy servers. One owned by Apple, and the other one by a content provider. In iOS 15 beta we saw that that provider seemed to be Cloudflare and yes, that's not a partner I personally would feel comfortable using. However, due to the nature of the relay, Cloudflare would only see the traffic coming from Apple, but not who the traffic belongs to.
Apple also explained that all traffic coming through the Apple relay is encrypted. In theory, Cloudflare would, indeed, not know where the request comes from.
However, as we know Cloudflare they will still decide which traffic goes back to you, Cloudflare has been covered in a separate article (which easily could have been our first EXPOSED!)
So on review, this setup sounds great, although Cloudflare wouldn't be my first choice, but ultimately, it keeps Apple users more private. The problem with this setup is, of course, it's Apples' word we need to take! The Relay is not open-sourced, well, it's Apple, and Apple is most of the time a 'secret closed garden'.
The Relay doesn't change your country of origin, at least this is not how we understand it, therefore, you gain some privacy, but you can't get around Geo restrictions.
Privacy Relay has been built for browsing, so you won't have this on other apps, perhaps in some Apple-specific apps like mail, but it won't help you encrypt any traffic on any of your other apps.
If you have privacy restrictions for your kids on the router, the Privacy Relay would most likely bypass those, as the router wouldn't know the exact location of your kids browsing too, good for privacy on your kids end though ;)
Privacy Relay also has restrictions, as Apple explained “regulatory limitations.” As of now, those countries include Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Uganda, South Africa, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.
If you are in the Apple ecosystem and need some extra privacy, you can get this, and it'll surely help you win a bit of your privacy back. It also gets you extra storage at the iCloud, which I, personally, would not use to store my files. But again, if you are in the Apple Garden, it might be the way you share and use your devices.
However, this privacy is most likely only on Safari. Apple, as in most of their new Privacy approach releases, go the right direction, but as usual falls short of going the extra mile by making it for countries who are in actual need of these, and doesn't do it system-wide, let alone choosing Cloudflare as it's partner.
This pointed out, I hope this improves and is useful for some Apple users. Plus, it raises the bar for Android and others to catch up. Competition, especially if It's for the good of users, can't hurt.