Providers concerned about Apple’s Private Relay

European providers are very concerned about a privacy feature from Apple. Last year, the American technology company introduced Private Relay, a function to anonymize internet traffic. Several major telecom companies fear it will affect Europe’s ‘digital sovereignty. They, therefore, want this functionality to be banned on the European mainland.

That writes the British newspaper The Telegraph.

This is what you need to know about Private Relay

Last September, Apple rolled out the latest version of its operating system: iOS 15. In this iteration, the Cupertino tech company paid a lot of attention to privacy. The new operating system introduced the ability to remove invisible tracking pixels from commercial emails, a privacy report for apps, and Hide My Email, among others. You can read all about these and other new privacy features in our article ‘Privacy settings in iOS’.

Another new privacy option Apple added to iOS 15 was Private Relay. Private Relay is a  VPN service that encrypts your internet traffic by forwarding it to two servers. Apple maintains the first server and strips the web traffic of its IP address. Apple assigns an anonymous IP address and forwards internet traffic to a second server. A third party maintains this server and assigns a temporary IP address to the internet traffic. Finally, it redirects users to the website they want to visit.

By separating this information, no one knows which websites you visit. Even Apple and your ISP don’t know what you’re up to on the Internet. In this way, Apple tries to guarantee the privacy of its customers. Private Relay only works with Safari for the time being. You also need an iCloud+ subscription to use this service.

European providers fear loss of ‘digital sovereignty’

The European telecom companies Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and Telefónica are not happy about Private Relay. In August last year, even before Apple rolled out iOS 15, the carriers sent a letter to the European Commission expressing their concerns about the new privacy feature. They fear that Private Relay is undermining Europe’s ‘digital sovereignty.

Because providers are in the dark about the traffic on the digital highway, they say they no longer see ‘essential network data and metadata’. This makes it more difficult to manage networks more efficiently and to protect internet users from digital threats. Finally, the telecom companies are afraid that Apple is nipping innovation in the bud. They do not explain exactly what they mean by that in their letter of fire.

Europe wants to be able to take stronger action against hackers and cybercriminals

Europe has been wrestling with issues such as privacy and encryption for years. On the one hand, MEPs and policymakers believe that the residents of member states have the right to communicate freely and undisturbed, without having to worry that someone is secretly looking over their shoulder.

At the same time, European authorities want to be able to act decisively and vigorously against hackers and cybercriminals. Encryption makes the work of investigative and enforcement authorities a lot more difficult. At the end of 2020, the European Council approved a draft resolution on encryption. In it, the heads of government of all 27 EU member states proposed that services such as WhatsApp and Signal should also create and store a master key in addition to a private key and public key.

“Law enforcement agencies and the judiciary are increasingly dependent on access to electronic evidence to effectively fight terrorism, organized crime, child sexual abuse and other cyber and digitized crime,” the Council said. “Access [to encrypted messages] is essential for successful law enforcement and criminal justice in cyberspace. However, in some cases, encryption makes it extremely difficult or even practically impossible to access evidence and analyze its contents.”

Providers: ‘Prohibits Private Relay in Europe’

The European providers who drafted the fire letter argue for a ban on Private Relay in Europe. They think they have a good chance if the Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) are soon a fact. This legislation should better protect European citizens against the power of large technology companies, also known as Big Tech. If they threaten to become too large and anticompetitive, they may be forced to split themselves up.

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