Following reports that T-Mobile was blocking Apple’s iCloud Private Relay, all three major US carriers have denied actively blocking it — for the most part.
iCloud Private Relay is a feature introduced as a beta in iOS 15 and macOS Monterey. The feature is similar to a VPN, and hides a person’s internet traffic. Some users reported that T-Mobile was starting to block the feature, something that 9to5Mac confirmed.
According to The Verge, all three carriers are trying to reassure users they are not intentionally or actively blocking Private Relay. Verizon and AT&T, in particular, said they are not blocking the feature in any way.
Things are a bit more complicated with T-Mobile. The vast majority of customers will not experience any issues, but accounts that are using T-Mobile’s Family Controls won’t be able to use Private Relay.
“Customers who chose plans and features with content filtering (e.g. parent controls) do not have access to the iCloud Private Relay to allow these services to work as designed. All other customers have no restrictions,” T-Mobile’s spokesperson The Verge.
That explanation is inline with Apple’s own description of Private Relay:
Networks that require the ability to audit traffic or perform network-based filtering will block access to Private Relay.
T-Mobile also told The Verge that it discovered an issue with Private Relay that could cause it to not work, and informed Apple so they could fix it.
“Overnight our team identified that in the 15.2 iOS release, some device settings default to the feature being toggled off. We have shared this with Apple. This is not specific to T-Mobile.”
A Potential Future Showdown
Hopefully all three carriers maintain their current stance. As The Verge points out, European carriers — including T-Mobile — have been campaigning against Private Relay, even asking the EU Commission to block the feature. The carriers claim it is “cutting off other networks and servers from accessing vital network data and metadata, including those operators in charge of the connectivity.”
There’s two issues with the carriers’ actions:
First, should the carriers succeed in convincing the EU Commission to block the feature, it’s a reasonable assumption that VPNs will likely be next on the chopping block, given that Private Relay offers many of the same benefits.
Successfully blocking Private Relay — let alone if the carriers target VPNs next — will significantly undermine many users’ privacy and security online.
Second, if the EU Commission gives in and blocks Private Relay, it will essentially confirm the right of companies to mine at least some datafrom paying customers, regardless of whether the customer agrees to it.
As we have written about before, it’s one thing for the provider of a free service to mine data from their customers. Since they’re providing a service for free, profiting from the customer’s data is often the accepted trade-off.
On the other hand, when a customer is paying for a service, there should be an expectation that’s where the transaction ends — the company provides a service in exchange for a fair amount of money, end of story.
If the carriers are successful in their goals, it will set a dangerous precedent that will erode privacy for everyone.