T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T — the three biggest US cellular carriers — have all confirmed to The Verge that they aren’t blocking Apple’s new iCloud Private Relay feature, following reports that some customers were having issues with the VPN-like feature.
AT&T and Verizon straight-up say they’re not blocking the feature from functioning. Verizon spokesperson George L. Koroneos confirms that Private Relay works on both cellular and Fios internet connections, and AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom says the carrier’s policy is not to block Private Relay.
T-Mobile’s situation is a little more complex: most customers shouldn’t have any issues with iCloud Private Relay. But those who use content filtering services (like the carrier’s Family Controls) won’t be able to use iCloud Private Relay, the carrier tells us.
“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 spokesperson Bennet Ladyman told The Verge. That tracks with Apple’s messaging around the feature, which notes that “Networks that require the ability to audit traffic or perform network-based filtering will block access to Private Relay.”
T-Mobile’s spokesperson also told The Verge that the carrier did find an issue with Apple’s recent iOS 15.2 update that caused iCloud Private Relay to be toggled off following the update. “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.”
If the problem really is on Apple’s end, it could also explain the issues that some Verizon or AT&T customers may have been experiencing in the wake of the update.
That said, it’s possible that carriers may sour on supporting Apple’s privacy feature in the future. The Telegraph reports that Vodafone, Telefonica, Orange, and T-Mobile have all signed a joint letter asking the European Commission to block Private Relay, arguing that the feature is “cutting off other networks and servers from accessing vital network data and metadata, including those operators in charge of the connectivity.”
iCloud Private Relay is similar in many ways to a VPN, working to automatically mask your internet traffic from both Apple, your ISP, and anyone else trying to snoop around what you’re doing online. The feature is still in beta but is currently available to anyone subscribing to a paid iCloud plan — although Apple doesn’t keep it toggled on by default, at least for now. There are other limitations, too: Private Relay won’t let you spoof your internet as coming from outside your rough geographic area (a popular use for VPNs to get around national or regional content limits), and it only works in Apple’s own Safari browser.