iCloud Private Relay doesn’t always work as expected. Here’s why and when it won’t work

The privacy-protecting iCloud Private Relay feature is currently in beta. In the meantime, Apple has now detailed all the services that iCloud Private Relay doesn’t cover.

Apple's marketing image showing the names of iCloud+ perks like Private Relay

Services and features iCloud Private Relay doesn’t cover

Normally when you browse the web, basic information related to your web traffic like IP addresses and DNS records can be seen by network providers and the websites you visit. You soon become targeted with unwanted ads and marketing campaigns. Worse, your data (combined with additional data) is sold to data brokers and similar companies.

Apple’s now clarified the services that iCloud Private Relay won’t work with:

  • Cellular services such as MMS and traffic tethering
  • Switching network connections
  • Enterprise settings
  • VPN services and some proxy configurations

Read on if you’d like to learn why those services are unsupported.

Cellular services

If you set up iCloud Private Relay for your cellular connection, the following services aren’t privacy-protected by iCloud Private Relay and are always accessed directly:

  • Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)
  • Telephony services (XCAP)
  • Entitlement Server access
  • Tethering traffic
  • Visual Voicemail

These services will work as they’re supposed to even with iCloud Private Relay turned on, but they won’t enjoy additioanl protections afforded by iCloud Private Relay.

Moving between Wi-Fi and cellular

You may have wondered why the device throws an iCloud Private Relay warning when moving between cellular and Wi-Fi connections. That’s because iCloud Private Relay can be activated separately for Wi-Fi and cellular. So you’re seeing this warning because you’ve probably set up iCloud Private Relay for your cellular connection but forgot to turn it on for that Wi-Fi hotspot you just joined.

Enterprise settings

Apple acknowledges that most managed network settings that are used by enterprises take precedence over iCloud Private Relay.

VPN services and certain proxy configurations

If you use a VPN or proxy configuration to mask your IP address, iCloud Private Relay won’t work. Your company’s IT administrator can also block access to iCloud Private Relay via the corporate network. Doing so will produce an alert telling the user they need to either disable iCloud Private Relay for the network or choose another network.

iCloud Private Relay is not available in all countries and regions.

How iCloud Private Relay works

iCloud Private Relay was designed to hide your IP address and browsing activity in Safari. It protects unencrypted internet traffic so that no one—not even Apple or your network provider—can see who you are and monitor which websites you’re visiting.

All the user’s requests are sent through two separate internet relays, such as Cloudflare, Akamai and others, according to Apple’s description.

The first assigns the user an anonymous IP address that maps to their region but not their actual location. The second decrypts the web address they want to visit and forwards them to their destination. This separation of information protects the user’s privacy because no single entity can identify both who a user is and which sites they visit.

As we mentioned earlier, iCloud Private Relay is currently in beta.

Just don’t expect everything to work without a hiccup when iCloud Private Relay is turned on. As we cautioned you earlier, prepare to encounter various issues with certain websites when test-driving this feature before it drops the beta moniker.

Apple has now provided a dedicated explainer on its website [PDF document] for those who would like to learn more about how the iCloud Private Relay feature works.

How to use iCloud Private Relay

You can use iCloud Private Relay on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch provided they’re powered by the iOS 15.0 software or later. On the Mac computers, iCloud Private Relay requires macOS Monterey 12.0 or later.

How to set up iCloud Private Relay on iPhone and iPad

If your iPhone or iPod touch is powered byiOS 15.0+, or you have an iPad with the iPadOS 15.0 software or later, do the following to set up iCloud Private Relay on the device:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Hit your Apple ID profile picture and name at the top of the Settings app.
  3. Choose “iCloud” from the list.
  4. Hit “Private Relay”.
  5. Slide the switch labeled “Private Relay” to the ON position.

Doing so will turn on iCloud Private Relay for all networks you join.

Three iPhone screenshots showing the iCloud Private Relay entry in iCloud settings (left), a splash screen for the feature (middle) and the IP address location settings (right)

Don’t worry, you can manually turn the feature off for any Wi-Fi or cellular network. “If you disable iCloud Private Relay for a network, it’s disabled on all your devices with Private Relay turned on,” Apple clarifies.

How to set up iCloud Private Relay on Mac

  1. Choose “System Preferences” from the Apple menu.
  2. In the System Preferences window, click the icon labeled “Apple ID”.
  3. Now click “iCloud”.
  4. Select the “Private Relay” option to turn the feature on.

Like on iPhone and iPad, you can turn off this feature for any Wi-Fi or Ethernet network that you join on your Mac. For further information, check out Apple’s instructions for using iCloud Private Relay on macOS.

iCloud+ plans and pricing

iCloud Private Relay requires an iCloud+ subscription: 50GB/200GB/2TB for $1/$3/$10 per month. If you’re not subscribed to iCloud+, you won’t be able to set up iCloud Private Relay on your devices. You can also sign up for the regular iCloud service to get five gigabytes of free storage, but doing so won’t get you iCloud Private Relay.

To access premium features like iCloud Private Relay, you must upgrade to iCloud+ (check out all the iCloud+ plans and international pricing on Apple’s website). If you need to upgrade to iCloud+, follow the instructions in Apple’s support document.