Private Relay makes paying $1 a month for iCloud a bargain

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Private Relay makes paying $1 a month for iCloud a bargain
Private Relay protects your online privacy. It’s the best part of Apple’s new iCloud+.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Private Relay is the latest way Apple devices can protect your privacy. The service, a part of iCloud+, makes it much harder for the websites you visit to track you.

Unlike many of Apple’s privacy services, it’s not free. But the new iCloud+ service costs very little and comes bundled with iCloud storage at no additional cost. And it comes with some other privacy benefits, too.

iCloud+ Private Relay is privacy-focused VPN lite

When you visit a webpage, the site can record your IP address. This reveals your general area, and can be used to record your browsing habits.

To combat this, Private Relay sends all Safari requests through two different relays. One replaces your IP address with an anonymous one. This maps to your general region but not anything more specific.

The second relay takes on the role of a domain name server, routing you to websites without ever knowing your real IP address. “It’s designed so that no one, including Apple, can see both who you are and what sites you’re visiting,” said Mike Abbott, Apple’s VP of cloud services. “And it does all this without compromising performance.”

iCloud+ Private Relay, which Apple announced Monday during its Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, is somewhat similar to what a virtual private network offers. But a true VPN does more. For example, you can’t use Private Relay to trick a streaming video service into thinking you’re in Germany so you can watch local TV there.

Hide My Email and more

Another privacy feature of iCloud+ is Hide My Email. This lets you give companies unique, random email addresses that forward to your regular email inbox. It’s built into Mail, Safari and other Apple apps.

Suppose you need to create an account with SketchyCo.com. With Hide My Email, you can give the site an email address that works for sending and receiving, mimicking your regular one. But if the company bombards you with spam, and sells the address to others, you can easily cut off that special email account without affecting your regular one.

As a bonus, iCloud+ expands built-in support for HomeKit Secure Video, so users can connect more security cameras in the Home app.

iCloud+ Private Relay: Cheap at the price

iCloud+ isn’t free. But essentially it is if you’re already a paying iCloud subscriber. Whatever tier you have now, the new privacy features are being added at no extra cost.

If you aren’t an iCloud subscriber, consider joining the $1 plan. It comes with Private Relay and Hide My Email, plus it includes 50GB of online storage. For me, that’s enough space to back up an iPhone and iPad with room left over for a modest collection of files.

I understand that iOS 15, macOS Monterey, etc., won’t be available until fall 2021. Make a note to sign up for iCloud+ when you can upgrade. Your privacy will be protected a bit more online, and maybe you can escape some spam.