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What Apple's Private Relay Could Mean for The VPN Market

What Apple's Private Relay Could Mean for The VPN Market

Apple’s Private Relay feature has attracted a lot of attention lately. This new feature is a part of iOS15.2, which has just been released to developers and public beta testers. Private Relay is supposed to be Apple’s own take on VPNs, aimed at providing more security to Safari Users. Could this launch mean the end for VPN companies? Will Private Relay make VPNs obsolete for Apple users? Let’s take a closer look at the much anticipated Apple feature to find out.

What Does Private Relay Offer?

The Private Relay feature will offer browser-based encryption and will be automatically downloaded to iPhones and other Apple iCloud-enabled devices (excluding the Apple watch) along with Apple’s system updates. Private Relay encrypts the information about the user, even from Apple itself. With Private Relay your identity, exact location and your browsing habits will be hidden from Apple and third parties. 

Private Relay should be extremely easy to use since it will be built into Apple’s operating system and possibly will even solve the problem that some people have with standard VPNs - the slowed down the internet speed. 

Can Private Relay replace VPNs?

Although it may sound like Private Realy is just Apple’s own version of a VPN, this new feature actually has a lot of gaps to fill if it wants to replace VPNs. For example, Private Relay will allow users to choose a general IP address, an IP address in their country of residence or any country within the time zone. When it comes to locations, VPN users have way more options, which also enhances the security of the users. With a VPN you are free to choose an IP address that’s thousand kilometers away from you. With Private Relay you are still tied down to your physical location to a certain degree. 

Now, what this means for the advertisers is that while they can’t know exactly where you are, they can still bombard you with targeted ads since they will have a general idea of where you are located. This also means that one of the most popular reasons why people get VPNs - being able to watch the content that is blocked in your country, also won’t be present with Apple’s Private Relay. This is because of Apple’s involvement with content creation and its very own rules regarding regional blocking strategy. 

Another reason why we believe this feature won’t be able to replace VPNs is that it will only be available in selected countries. According to Apple’s own announcement, Private Relay will not be accessible in China, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, South Africa, Colombia, Russia, and Belarus. Arguably most of these countries are the ones that need online privacy the most, so this is definitely going to affect the overall popularity of the product. 

As we mentioned in the intro, this is a feature that only works with Safari, so users can not incorporate the Private Relay into Chrome or Firefox, both of which have way more users than Safari. This is also likely to alienate millions of users who favor other browsers over AApple’s Safari. 

On top of that, there is still a lot that we don’t know about this feature, and a lot could still change before regular users get to test out the Private Relay. We know that it will help users to encrypt their data, but to what extent? What other features are going to be a part of this launch? Will Apple actually live up to all the hype around its Private Relay? We still don’t know that. 

This move is definitely Apple’s attempt at listening to their user base more. There have been more and more conversations about online security and privacy. The many instances of big tech abusing their user data have also helped advance the conversation around this topic. People are learning about all the ways that we expose ourselves to attacks when we choose to browse online without any security or special privacy tools like VPN. And while Private Relay is definitely a positive addition to Apples upcoming update, it's very unlikely that it will be able to replace or even compete with quality VPNs and here’s why:

VPNs still hold an upper hand when it comes to the variety of IP addresses that can be used by their clients, meaning that they will avoid targeted ads and get to the blocked content easier. VPNs are also more inclusive. They aren’t limited to specific countries, or specific browsers. With Private Relay, the security benefits are limited to Safari, which is quite inconvenient. 

While the general trend of prioritizing online privacy is a definitely a step in the right direction, with all that we know about Private Relay now, its safe to say that it will be a nice addition for Safari users, but will hardly be sufficient for those who actually want to be private online and protect themselves against snoopers, hackers and hungry advertisers. 

A lot is still unclear with Private Relay, but it will likely not be the answer to all of Apple’ users’ security concerns. The VPN market might get more competitive but VPN’s themselves are hardly in danger. 

Although, separate browsers coming up with their versions of Private Relay and making anonymity online much more accessible could really shake up the VPN Market in the long run, but still - for those who fully understand the benefits of having a solid VPN, Private Relay will not be sufficient. VPNs offer so much more than just vaguely disguised IP addresses. 

The fact that online security has been getting a lot of attention online is definitely a good thing. This new feature may even raise awareness regarding online security among the larger audiences. And while it looks like Private Relay will have limited security benefits, we can never argue against any improvement in this direction. 

Future of Online Security and VPN Providers

It’s clear that VPNs are here to stay. Apart from the security benefits which are the most crucial part of this technology, they also offer a lot in terms of convenience, including but not limited to avoiding targeted ads, watching the content that would otherwise be blocked in your country and oftentimes getting better deals when shopping online. This is not to say that all VPNs are made equal, some of them might be doing even less than what Private Relay wants to accomplish, but a solid VPN goes way beyond this new Apple feature. 

This launch is definitely going to have a limited effect on the VPN market and the general discourse around online security. Whether or not it will be able to actually impact the existing VPNs is still unclear. Although when we take a closer look at what Private Relay offers, it’s clear that VPN benefits far outweigh this new Apple feature. 

The VPN market will definitely have to undergo a transformation over the next couple of years, there is no arguing against that. But it’s unlikely that Private Relay will play a huge role in this development.

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