Apple Private Relay

Can Apple Private Relay replace a traditional VPN?

Apple Private Relay, which was released in 2021 as an add-on for Safari, enables customers of iCloud+ to get access to VPN-like features. But what is it?

The browser-based encryption tool was created to further protect users' privacy and security while working with Apple products. While Apple Private Relay encrypts data in transit and masks the user's IP address, it is incompatible with Chrome on Macs.

We’re taking a quick look at the benefits of Private Relay vs Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and it is clear that Private Relay provides better privacy and security.

Similar to a VPN, Apple Private Relay (also known as iCloud Relay) hides the user's IP address while they are browsing the web. The iCloud+ feature in Safari is there to protect your privacy while you're online.

How does Apple's Private Relay work?

Following Google's release of it’s first VPN, “VPN by Google One”, we’re now looking at Apple Relay. 

Apple Private Relay has certain benefits over a standard VPN. Any iCloud+-enabled iPhone, iPad, or Mac with have the option to turn on Apple Private Relay in the system options. Private Relay uses two separate proxies to conceal your online activity rather than a VPN's tunnelling technique.

Your iOS device will first connect to a server operated by Apple whenever you use Safari to access a website. Because your first proxy won't know what sites you've visited, Apple won't either. In the Private Relay settings, you may choose to substitute your actual location with an estimate based on the country and time zone you're currently in.

Over an encrypted channel, your data is sent from the first server to the second server, which is hosted by a third party. The information is decoded by the second server before being sent. It generates a fake IP address depending on your location since it can't see your real one.

While the first server has your IP address, it has no idea what URL you typed in. The second server will know exactly what you're looking for, but it won't know who you are.

Apple's Private Relay in detail

With Google's first VPN signalling the increasing need for online privacy - as Ai knocks on the online front door - Apple has entered the market in a new way.

To be clear, Apple Private Relay is not a VPN and does not have any additional VPN-like capability; it only shares certain features with VPNs, such as the ability to disguise your IP address and encrypt your data. A virtual private network provides an extra barrier against prying eyes and guarantees complete privacy.

Comparison: Virtual Private Networks vs Apple's Private Relay

Although Private Relay hides your real IP address and encrypts your data in transit like a VPN, it doesn't provide the same level of privacy and security as a dedicated VPN programme for iOS or macOS. Apple's Private Relay might be used in conjunction with a VPN. If a VPN is active, Private Relay will not interfere with it, instead treating VPN-encrypted data as if it were regular internet traffic and allowing it via the relay.

With split tunnelling, you may direct just certain types of network traffic via the VPN, while the rest of your traffic goes directly, unencrypted, to the destination.

In addition, most VPNs have a “no-logs” policy, which means that they do not track or store any of your internet activity. To further convince customers that their data is safe, most service providers will even pay for an independent audit. Apple Private Relay claims that the data it collects and saves is not utilised in any way that may identify the user and is instead used for technical support and system maintenance.

There are benefits and drawbacks to using Apple Private Relay, just as there are to using any other VPN service.

What's the point of using Apple's Private Relay?

  • Private Relay masks your true IP address so that Apple and other applications and websites only see the new one.
  • User-Friendly: There is no subscription, download, or other cost associated with using the service on an Apple device. 
  • Offers the option of creating a secret email address: In order to maintain your anonymity against the dark web, the service may send all future emails to a made-up address.

Where does its usefulness end?

  • Private Relay does not provide any new layers of privacy or security on browsers. Kill switches and split tunnelling, two essential VPN functions, are not available. 
  • You are restricted to your selected server location. Your geographical proximity may increase, but it won't give you access to servers in every region as a VPN would.
  • Private Relay hides both your data and your internet surfing habits, including your IP address so that neither third parties nor Apple can see it. However, Private Relay only tracks aggregate, anonymous use data in accordance with its privacy policy. However, governments may request such details from Apple in the case of a criminal trial.
  • Your Internet traffic is encrypted when using Private Relay, albeit the level of encryption used by Apple is unknown.
  • Exclusive to iCloud Plus subscribers only: Users without a premium iCloud+ account will not have access to Apple Private Relay.


With many affordable VPNs on the market, this Apple Private Relay may not provide the same amount of protection, but it may still mask your online footprint.

Private Relay, when used with Safari, hides the user's IP address and encrypts all network traffic. The application also protects your privacy by concealing your web browsing habits from Apple and any prying eyes.

A virtual private network (VPN) may protect your privacy in more ways than one. A VPN provides additional privacy safeguards including a kill switch and split tunnelling. User anonymity may also be protected by having VPNs' no-logs practises independently audited.

You should think about why you need private internet connection. In the absence of a need for top-secret data transfer, Apple Private Relay might be a viable alternative. Due to its limited privacy options and inability to be activated in Chrome on Macs, Private Relay won't be of much value to most users.