Apple has confirmed that its latest privacy feature - private relay - to obscure users’ web browsing behaviour from internet service providers and advertisers will not be available in China due to regulatory reasons.
The private relay feature sends web traffic to a server maintained by the tech giant, where it is stripped of a piece of information called an IP address. After which, Apple sends the traffic to a second server maintained by a third-party operator who assigns the user a temporary IP address and sends the traffic onwards to its destination website. Apple said that the use of an outside party in the second hop of the relay system is intentional, aimed at preventing even Apple from knowing both the users’ identity and what website the user is visiting.
Currently, Apple has not disclosed which outside partners will handle the system but plans to name them in the future. It is expected that the new feature, announced at its annual software developer conference earlier this week, will not be available to the public until later this year.
According to BBC, this is a compromise the tech giant has had to make given the China market accounts for 15% of its revenue and the internet is closely monitored by regulators in the market. Meanwhile, revenue in the Greater China region climbed 87.5% to US$17.7 billion, Apple’s highest-ever revenue for its fiscal second quarter in the region.
Apart from China, the feature will also not be available in a number of countries, namely the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Turkmenistan and Uganda.
As IP addresses can be used to track users in a variety of ways, advertisers can put together disparate data to deduce a user's identity. According to a report from Reuters which cited an expert from digital marketing, the private relay feature “will effectively render IP addresses useless as a fingerprinting mechanism”.