Apple’s privacy-focused Private Relay feature isn’t coming to China


Apple’s new Private Relay feature, which is designed to hide users’ browsing data and protect their privacy, will not be available in China, Reuters reports. The feature was announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference as part of a new subscription bundle called iCloud Plus. Other countries where Private Relay is not available are: Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.

The move is the latest concession Apple has made to offer its services in China, a market that: Reuters notes accounts for nearly 15 percent of sales. Chinese citizens’ access to the internet is highly regulated and there is limited access to technologies such as virtual private networks or VPNs, which help citizens evade tracking and censorship. It’s worth noting that Apple doesn’t call Private Relay a VPN itself, citing technicalities in how it works, but the service protects users’ privacy in a similar way.

In 2018, Apple started storing some iCloud encryption keys in China and transferred its Chinese iCloud business to a company in China. Although Apple said the move is the “speed and reliability of iCloud,Critics said it would also give Chinese authorities access to user data through the country’s legal system. Last year, Apple removed several major VPN apps from the App Store in China in response to local regulations requiring VPN providers to hold government licenses.

According to Apple, Private Relay encrypts a user’s traffic and routes it through two internet relays in such a way that no entity can see the contents of a user’s browsing data. A first Apple-controlled relay assigns a user an anonymous IP address, while a second third-party relay decodes the web address and forwards the data to the destination. Apple says Private Relay hides a user’s traffic from ISPs, advertisers, and even Apple itself.