New ‘Private Relay’ feature will not be available in China

Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.

Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc/Handout via Reuters

GUANGZHOU, China — Apple’s new feature designed to give users more privacy when browsing the web will not be available in China, one of the iPhone maker’s most important markets.

Apple revealed a new service called iCloud+ at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday. One of the features included in that is “Private Relay.”

When users browse the internet using Safari, their data will be sent through two separate servers in order to mask the user’s identity and what sites they are visiting. As a result, even Apple or the user’s network provider cannot see that data.

It’s a little like a virtual private network (VPN) where users can route their internet traffic through a server located somewhere else in the world to mask their browsing activity.

China so-called Great Firewall effectively allows authorities to block websites from being accessed within China including Google and Facebook. VPNs are often used to get around China’s strict internet controls.

An Apple spokesperson told CNBC that Private Relay will not work in China and some other countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Belarus and Uganda.

Apple said it could not offer the feature in these countries due to local laws.

Using unauthorized VPNs to access blocked websites is illegal in China. While Apple’s Private Relay is not technically a VPN, it acts in a similar way.

In 2017, the U.S. technology giant removed a number of VPN services from its China App Store to comply with local regulations.

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