EU Mobile Operators Block iPhone iCloud Private Relay feature
One of the major new iCloud features announced last year was Private Relay, which seamlessly sets up an encrypted VPN-like tunnel for all iPhone Safari traffic. Private Relay is currently available as an opt-in beta in iOS 15. Apple says that this feature means that no one in the chain — including Apple — knows who you are or what website you are browsing to.
It seems carriers in Europe don’t like that idea too much. Via The Telegraph, operators including Vodafone, Telefonica and T-Mobile have signed an open letter voicing their opposition to the rollout of the feature.
The letter said that Private Relay cuts off networks and servers from accessing “vital network data and metadata” and will have “significant consequences in terms of undermining European digital sovereignty”. They say it will also impact “operator’s ability to efficiently manage telecommunication networks”.
It’s unclear why the companies are speaking out against Private Relay, when general VPN services have been widely available for years and do much of the same role. Perhaps it is the fact that Private Relay is so easily accessible that they expect a lot of people to use it; the feature is built into iOS 15 and available to any customer with a paid iCloud plan.
As of the latest shipping release, iOS 15.2, Private Relay is off by default but Apple has signalled that it will be enabled as standard once Private Relay leaves beta testing phase.
Cynically, Private Relay and other VPN services block the carriers ability to upsell internet features based on your phone plan, like compressing images or restricting HD video streaming to more expensive tiers.
The Telegraph says mobile carriers in the UK have also aired concerns, including complaints to regulators from O2.
Availability of Private Relay is already restricted by geography. In compliance with local laws, Apple has already announced that Private Relay will not be offered in China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.
Enterprise-managed devices can also choose to disable Private Relay for their employees using MDM profiles.