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iPhone owners must choose between Content Filtering and iCloud Private Relay, suggests telcos

iPhone owners must choose between Content Filtering and iCloud Private Relay suggests Telcos
Image: 9to5Mac

Multiple Apple iPhone owners have suddenly started experiencing trouble while trying to activate or use iCloud Private Relay. It seems it is not just the telecom service providers that are playing spoilsport. It could be Apple’s policies and parental control software for content filtering that is not allowing Private Relay to function.

Several iPhone owners in Europe first started experiencing trouble while trying to use iCloud Private Relay. The problem was first restricted to a single mobile carrier but soon spread across multiple wireless communication service providers. The issue then hopped over the pond, and some T-Mobile and Sprint customers in the US started having trouble accessing the feature.

iCloud Private Relay is a new feature that Apple has introduced in iOS 15. The feature adds a layer of privacy to shield iPhone users’ internet usage from prying eyes. Essentially, Apple first receives the web traffic request from an iPhone or Mac user and relays the same to one of its own servers. The request is then rerouted through a second server operated by a third party.

If this sounds like a VPN (Virtual Private Network), it’s because that is exactly what iCloud Private Relay offers. The only difference is that Apple’s solution is baked into iOS and macOS. iPhone and Mac owners need not download any third-party software or install or configure VPN gateways. It is important to note that the feature is still in “public beta”.

After this feature suddenly ceased functioning on some iPhone and Mac devices, several users openly claimed it was the telecom service providers that were preventing iCloud Private Relay from functioning reliably. After all, the feature can significantly limit the amount of usage data mobile carriers can collect on their customers.

Incidentally, several telecom carriers in Europe seem to be blocking iCloud Private Relay if users switch over to cellular data. However, it seems the feature cannot work properly if an iPhone user has switched on parental control software for content filtering. The feature should work correctly if an iPhone or Mac owner disables content filtering. A quote from T-Mobile spokesperson given to 9to5Mac confirmed as much:

"Customers who chose plans and features with content filtering (e.g. parent controls) do not have access to the iCloud Private Relay to allow these services to work as designed. All other customers have no restrictions."

It is not immediately clear why or how content filtering hinders iCloud Private Relay. After all, Apple would prioritize censoring sensitive media but won’t simply shut off its own VPN to do so. While telecom service providers are defending their position, Apple is yet to offer a comment.

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