Apple announced a new privacy-focused set of features called iCloud+ at WWDC 2021. The features will be rolled out free of charge to existing iCloud subscribers in the third quarter of 2021. They include internet traffic encryption, burner email addresses, and better support for home security cameras.
What Is iCloud+?
iCloud+ is the new name for a premium iCloud subscription. Apple is not raising the price of iCloud, and anyone who currently pays for an iCloud storage plan can take advantage of the new features at their current tier.
With the announcement of iCloud+, Apple has introduced three new standout features: Private Relay, Hide My Email, and unlimited HomeKit Secure Video recording.
Anyone who currently pays for iCloud storage will be automatically moved onto an iCloud+ plan at no extra cost. iCloud Storage quotas weren’t changed with the announcement of iCloud+. The free iCloud tier is still limited to 5GB of storage and doesn’t include any iCloud+ benefits.
Private Relay: Apple’s Take on a VPN
The standout feature of iCloud+ is called Private Relay, and it’s Apple’s take on a VPN (even though Apple won’t use that terminology to describe it). The feature seeks to protect your identity online by encrypting all traffic that leaves a device, effectively hiding your online activity from internet service providers, governments, and snoopers. It’s one of many privacy-related features in iOS 15.
Like a VPN, all traffic is encrypted. This means that if someone were to intercept traffic, for example, by using a man-in-the-middle attack on a public wireless network, they would still need to decrypt the data to see what you’re doing. It’s not yet clear what level of encryption Apple is going for with Private Relay.
What separates Private Relay from other similar VPN services is the “two-hop” approach. Once internet traffic has been encrypted, it’s sent through two separate relays.
According to Apple:
“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.”
With Private Relay in place, Apple claims that even it cannot see what you’re doing online. iPhone in certain countries, such as China and Belarus, will not get access to Private Relay at all.
The two-hop approach is novel since it relies on a first party (Apple) and a third party (a trusted partner) to anonymize your browsing activity. Apple will know who you are since you’re using its service, but not where you’re going since the destination is encrypted. With the second hop, the trusted partner knows where you’re going but has no idea who you are since your IP address is anonymized.
Speaking to Fast Company, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering clarified: “We hope users believe in Apple as a trustworthy intermediary, but we didn’t even want you to have to trust us [because] we don’t have this ability to simultaneously source your IP and the destination where you’re going to—and that’s unlike VPNs.”
Apple will still have to comply with requests from authorities to provide court-ordered information about users, although it’s not yet clear what information Apple will be able to supply for its Private Relay users.
With a VPN, factors like where you’re located and the desired level of encryption can make a significant difference to performance. Apple claims that Private Relay works without compromising performance, but this is a claim that will be thoroughly tested when the service finally launches.
Hide My Email: Enhanced Spam Protection
Another feature introduced with iCloud+ is Hide My Email, a feature that allows you to create and delete email aliases on the fly rather than giving out your real address.
The feature mirrors Sign in with Apple in a bid to both anonymize users and provide enhanced spam protection. If you don’t trust a service not to send you unsolicited emails, you can simply create a new one in Safari, Mail, or iCloud settings.
The address will function like any other, and all mail will be forwarded to your inbox. If you find that that particular address has become the target of spammers, you can easily delete it under iCloud settings.
Unlimited HomeKit Secure Video Recording
The final standout feature of iCloud+ is unlimited recording space for Homekit-connected security cameras. Apple’s previous plan required that users pay for a 200GB iCloud plan to record video from a single camera, which counted against your total iCloud storage.
Moving forward, Apple will allow you to “connect more cameras than ever before” using the Home app. None of the footage will count against the total iCloud storage, whether you have a 50GB or 200GB plan.
HomeKit Secure Video footage will be end-to-end encrypted, with no limits in place on how many devices can be connected.
Included in Your iCloud Subscription
The best part of the iCloud+ announcement is that if you already subscribe to an iCloud storage plan, you’ll get the free upgrade when the service launches in late 2021.
If you’ve been tempted by smart home security but were put off by Apple’s previous limits, now might be a great time to invest in some HomeKit-compatible cameras.
Apple announced more than iCloud+ at WWDC 2021. Learn what else is coming to iOS, macOS, and more.
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