One of the best privacy features in iOS 15 is Private Relay. It’s so good that it appears to have gotten mobile carriers in a spin, and multiple carriers worldwide appear to be blocking it from working. Is that a case of carriers not liking the feature, or is something else going on?
Let’s start with the facts that we know. Yes, some European carriers, including Vodaphone, Telefonica, and T-Mobile have signed an open letter complaining about Private Relay (via The Telegraph).
That opposition all centers around the carriers not liking the fact it stops them from seeing what’s happening on a person’s device, even if that snooping is only used to manage their own telecommunications networks for things like capacity.
Private Relay is also not available in China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda, and the Philippines. I see a pattern there, with local laws forbidding things like VPNs so the government can see everyone’s data.
T-Mobile in the US seems to also be blocking it, but that actually seems to be two different problems.
One is that anyone with a content filtering feature from T-Mobile won’t be able to use Privacy Relay. You can still turn off T-Mobile’s filtering, and then Privacy Relay will work, so it’s not really T-Mobile blocking the feature.
The other is that some device settings that were introduced when iOS 15.2 was released seem to be blocking Privacy Relay.
That’s the official word from T-Mobile (shown in the tweet to the right). The company’s engineers discovered this and shared their findings with Apple. Presumably, Privacy Relay will start working again once the two manage to fix the bugs.
Some Twitter users have been also sharing screenshots that seem to back up T-Mobile’s findings. A “Limit IP Address Tracking” toggle in the cellular network settings in iOS seems to disable Privacy Relay when it is also toggled off.
To me, that reads like the whole situation was conflated from “we dislike this” to “we are actively blocking this” based on a bug that happened at the same time.
We’ll likely hear more from Apple if it was indeed a bug, or we’ll need to wait and see if Privacy Relay still appears to be blocked by the carriers.
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