Apple iCloud Logo on blue background

Starting with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, if you have an iCloud+ subscription, you can use Apple’s Private Relay to keep your browsing activity private thanks to encrypted relays. Here’s how to use it.

What Is Private Relay?

Apple designed Private Relay to prevent ad networks and other services from building a profile of you based on your browsing activity over time. When using it, Apple claims that “no single party—not even Apple—can see both who you are and what sites you’re visiting.”

Private Relay achieves this by sending your requests through two separate internet relays. The first (operated by Apple) handles your IP address, and the second (operated by a third-party provider) creates a temporary IP address and connects you to the site. Along the way, Private Relay encrypts your DNS records to hide the address of the site you’re visiting from intermediate parties on the network.

Using the service requires a certain degree of trust in Apple that it will actually keep your records private, just like using a VPN requires you trust the VPN provider.

What You’ll Need

To use Private Relay, you’ll need an iCloud+ or Apple One subscription—even the $0.99 per month subscription will work—and your iPhone or iPad must be running iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 (or higher). As of September 2021, you can’t use Private Relay with macOS, but that will likely change when Apple releases macOS 12 (Monterey), which is expected at some point in 2021.

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As of September 2021, Private Relay is currently in beta form, which means Apple is still testing it out and ironing out bugs before a final release some time in the future.

There are some limitations on how Private Relay works, as Apple explains on its Private Relay page:

  • Some sites might need to be specifically configured to work with Private Relay. If not, they might show information tailored to a different region. It also might interfere with signing into some sites if the sign-in relies on location-based information.
  • Some networks and services aren’t compatible with Private Relay. For example, networks that require filtering, services that rely on tracking your browsing activity (like parental controls), and others.
  • Private Relay isn’t available in all regions. If you’re traveling, Private Relay will tell you when it’s not available in that area.

Still, if you run into trouble with Private Relay, it’s easy enough to turn off again quickly in Settings. If you need an alternative secure browsing option, you might consider trying a VPN service.

RELATED: What Is a VPN, and Why Would I Need One?

How to Enable Private Relay on iPhone and iPad

To get started with Private Relay, you’ll need to enable it in Settings. First, launch Settings on your iPhone or iPad by tapping its icon, which looks like a gray gear.

In Settings, tap your Apple ID name.

In Settings, tap your Apple ID.

In Apple ID settings, select “iCloud.”

Tap "iCloud."

In iCloud settings, tap “Private Relay.” (If you don’t see the option then subscribe to iCloud+ or Apple One first).

In iCloud Settings, tap "Private Relay."

In Private Relay settings, tap the switch beside “Private Relay” to turn it “On.”

Flip the switch beside "Private Relay" to turn it "On."

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Once enabled, you have the option of setting an IP address location preference. If you tap “IP Address Location” in Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Private Relay, you’ll have two options:

  • Maintain General Location: This assigns you an anonymous IP address that will appear to website operators like it’s located in your general area.
  • Use Country and Time Zone: This pulls a random IP address from somewhere within your current country and time zone.

Notice that Apple doesn’t allow you to spoof IP addresses as coming from other countries (like some VPNs do), which would allow people to get around certain geographical internet and streaming media restrictions.

Apple Private Relay "IP Address Location Settings"

When you have it set how you like, exit Settings and launch Safari. With Private Relay enabled, you can browse the web with Safari as you normally would.

RELATED: How to Access Region-Restricted Websites From Anywhere on Earth

Troubleshooting Apple Private Relay

If all goes well, you won’t notice any difference while browsing with Private Relay. But it might not work perfectly with every site or every network.ย  In that case, you might need to disable Private Relay temporarily in Settings > Apple ID > iCloud > Private Relay to get those sites to work.

Also, you can disable Private Relay for certain Wi-Fi networks or for your cellular network only. For Wi-Fi, open Settings and navigate to Wi-Fi, then tap the “i” in a circle beside the Wi-Fi Network you want to disable it for. On the next screen, flip the switch beside “iCloud Private Relay” to “Off.”

(With this setting, iCloud Private Relay will remain active for other Wi-Fi networks and your cellular data network unless you specifically switch those off or disable Private Relay entirely.)

In Wi-Fi settings, switch "iCloud Private Relay" to "Off."

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To disable Private Relay for a cellular data network only, navigate to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options and turn off the switch labeled “iCloud Private Relay.”

In Cellular Data Options, switch "iCloud Private Relay" to "Off."

And if all else fails, you could try politely asking your network provider or site operator to actively support Private Relay with some changes on their end. Good luck, and stay safe out there!

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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