Apple faces criticism in Europe for iCloud ‘Private Relay’ feature

Why is it important: Apple’s focus on privacy may have won some loyalty points for its customers, but telcos now want to oppose features like “Private Relay” as well as regulators and law enforcement. This isn’t the first time that encryption technology has been criticized for its ability to hide the digital footprints of criminals, but it is now also portrayed as something that could harm competition in some digital markets.

Last year, a group of Republican senators proposed new legislation that would end what they called “warrant-protected” encryption, exacerbating the ongoing headache affecting both tech companies and consumers. In Apple’s case, over the past few years, even the FBI has asked several times to break encryption on the iPhone. Recently, he has softened his requests and expressed them more diplomatically.

Recently, some European mobile operators have joined with regulators in their fight against encryption technologies. According to report from The Telegraph, several companies are urging regulators to declare encrypted viewing and other similar technologies illegal as they substantially undermine the ability of broadband and mobile providers to assist law enforcement in their investigations of suspected terrorists and child molesters.

Back in August 2021, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Telefonica signed a joint letter to the European Commission asking regulators to ban Apple from using “private relaying” as it undermines their “digital sovereignty.” In other words, companies believe that this takes away control over the networks they operate and may “prevent others from innovating and competing in subsequent digital markets.”

Private Relay is a beta feature for paid iCloud users at iOS 15 and macOS Monterey, which encrypts your web traffic and routes it over two internet hops or “relays.” This hides your Internet activity from ISPs, as well as your exact location from trackers found on the websites you visit, thereby preventing them from creating a profile of who you are and what you do on the Internet.

However, it only works with Safari, and websites can easily identify it as a “proxy server”. And unlike a VPN, it doesn’t provide the ability to access region-specific content.

Telecommunications companies in Europe are now urging regulators to pass legislation that would classify Apple as a “digital gatekeeper.” This will most likely happen in accordance with the EU Digital Markets Law, which is expected to come into force later this year. In the meantime, some mobile operators, such as T-Mobile, have begun blocking IPhone users cannot enable private relaying in the US and UK.

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