T-Mobile begins blocking iPhone users from enabling iCloud Private Relay in US

Earlier today, a report indicated that some European carriers were blocking the Private Relay feature introduced by Apple with iOS 15. This feature is designed to give users an additional layer of privacy by ensuring that no one can view the websites that they visit. Now, in addition to some carriers in Europe, it appears…

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T-Mobile begins blocking iPhone users from enabling iCloud Private Relay in US

Earlier today, a report indicated that some European carriers were blocking the Private Relay feature introduced by Apple with iOS 15. This feature is designed to give users an additional layer of privacy by ensuring that no one can view the websites that they visit.

Now, in addition to some carriers in Europe, it appears that T-Mobile/Sprint in the United States is also blocking iCloud Private Relay access when connected to cellular data.

Apple says that Private Relay is a feature designed to give users another layer of privacy when browsing the web. The first relay is sent through a server maintained by Apple, and the second is a third-party operator. The feature was announced at WWDC last June and initially slated for inclusion in iOS 15.

Apple ultimately shipped the feature as a “public beta,” meaning that it is disabled by default in the newest iOS 15 and macOS Monterey releases. You can manually enable it by going to Settings on your iPhone, tapping your name at the top, choosing iCloud, and choosing “Private Relay.”

T-Mobile was among the carriers in Europe that signed an open letter expressing concern about the impact of Private Relay. The carriers wrote that the feature cuts off networks and servers from accessing “vital network data and metadata and could impact “operator’s ability to efficiently manage telecommunication networks.”

In the UK, carriers including T-Mobile, EE, and others have already started blocking Private Relay usage when connected to cellular data. 9to5Mac has also now confirmed that T-Mobile is extending this policy to the United States.

This means that T-Mobile and Sprint users in the United States can no longer use the privacy-preserving iCloud Private Relay feature when connected to cellular data. An error message in the Settings app explains:

Your cellular plan doesn’t support iCloud Private Relay. With Private Relay turned off, this network can monitor your internet activity, and your IP address is not hidden from known trackers or websites.

The change does not appear to be network-wide just yet, but rather it appears T-Mobile is in the process of rolling it out. This means that some users might still be able to use iCloud Private Relay when connected to their cellular network – at least for now. The situation could also could vary based on your location or plan.

Apple has yet to comment on this situation, but it is worrisome to see carriers like T-Mobile interfering with system-level iOS features. There’s likely not much that Apple can do here, but it underscores another limitation of Private Relay as a feature as well as the power that carriers hold.

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One thought on “T-Mobile begins blocking iPhone users from enabling iCloud Private Relay in US

  1. Aditya avatar

    I would think Apple has some leverage to force it if they really wanted.

    If Apple really wanted to force the issue, they could tell T-Mobile no more iPhone contracts unless you do it. Apple can survive and thrive on fewer networks – the iPhone was AT&T exclusive for a long time at the beginning.

    If that happened, there would be no way for T-Mobile to get a supply of iPhones. People would need to buy iPhones from Apple and then replace the SIM cards themselves. It would make T-Mobile bend pretty quickly unless they managed to get Verizon and AT&T to join them on the issue.

    But then Apple has a second card to play, and that's the court of public opinion. If Apple wanted to make a public ad lambasting the carriers for undermining people's privacy, the damage would also force them to bend.

    Finally, of course, there's the fact that carriers need Apple just as much as Apple needs carriers. However, between the carriers and Apple, who has $200 billion in the bank to do things themselves if they wanted?

    Edit: Heck, T-Mobile has a market value of $130 billion. AT&T has a market cap of $188B, and Verizon $223 billion. If Verizon and AT&T joined T-Mobile in protest, Apple could theoretically attempt (or at least threaten) a hostile takeover of any of them. That would cause a lot of discussion among the carriers and send a strong message very quickly.