UK network operators target iCloud Private Relay in regulator complaint

A group of UK network operators have officially urged the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to regulate iCloud Private Relay, saying Apple’s privacy service is anti-competitive, potentially bad for users and a threat for national security.

General iCloud functionality
In its response to the CMA’s interim report on mobile ecosystems, Mobile UK, a trade association of UK mobile network operators including EE, Virgin Media O2, Three and Vodafone, raised concerns that ‌iCloud‌ Private Relay may have a negative impact on the user experience. , Internet security and competition.

‌‌iCloud‌‌ Private Relay was a new service introduced with iOS 15 that ensures that all outbound traffic from an ‌iPhone‌, ‌iPad‌, or Mac is encrypted using two separate internet relays, so businesses cannot use personal information such as IP address, location and browsing activity to create a detailed user profile.

Following an official complaint about Microsoft’s Private Relay, Mobile UK claims that the privacy service may have undesirable side effects for users: “Private Relay affects Apple users in several ways, beyond just the level of privacy desired by the user”. For example, “Apple users experienced a worse browsing experience when using Private Relay.” This would have the potential to push users to “migrate” from the “Safari browser to apps downloaded from the App Store where Apple can earn a commission”.

Private Relay blocks network providers from seeing network traffic from Safari and unencrypted apps. By preventing network operators from seeing this traffic, Mobile UK says Private Relay prevents service providers from understanding “demand patterns on mobile networks”, which prevents them from effectively diagnosing customer problems.

Additionally, Private Relay is accused of compromising “content filtering, malware, anti-scam and anti-phishing protection provided by network providers”. Mobile UK also claims that Private Relay is a threat to national security because it “compromises information available under the government’s investigative powers, with implications for law enforcement” in relation to “the terrorism, serious organized crime, sexual abuse and exploitation of children”. “

Private Relay allegedly allows Apple “to leverage its considerable market power in many areas of the market and thus be able to further strengthen its position.” Mobile UK states that due to Private Relay, “providers will not be able to use traffic data to develop their own competing mobile browsers in the future”, as well as other services that directly compete with Apple:

Network providers would no longer be able to use web traffic data on Safari to develop their own digital products and services that directly complement Apple. For example, a network provider may no longer have access to information about a user’s content viewing habits to develop its own content that competes with Apple TV. Similarly, a network provider may no longer be able to share consumer information with third parties that provide digital advertising services that compete with Apple Search Ads…

Mobile UK claims that the ability of UK internet service providers (ISPs) “to differentiate themselves and compete in the market on a level playing field” is being actively undermined by Private Relay since Apple is effectively becoming an ISP itself:

Apple is unilaterally ending the role of the mobile and fixed connectivity provider in resolving the internet connection, with Apple itself taking on the role of ISP. The role of the mobile and fixed connectivity provider is reduced to transporting the handset/home to the Apple iCloud platform.

Mobile UK fears that “Apple may thereby leverage its position in the device and operating system to grow its ‌iCloud‌+ user to grow its position as an ISP”.

Additionally, the trade association said Private Relay directs users to more Apple services, “accessing the Internet in a way that Apple curates.” Private Relay allows Apple “to prioritize its own proprietary apps and services over other vendors.”

Mobile UK also said Private Relay “affects competition in mobile browsers”, pointing out that “rival browsers cannot be easily differentiated” due to the restriction of Apple’s WebKit browser engine. The organization complains that users cannot “switch to another browser” to circumvent Private Relay because “the competing browser’s ability to differentiate itself from Safari will always be limited by the terms of Apple’s browser engine.”

In conclusion, the trade association argues that Private Relay needs to be regulated beyond its superficial existence as a privacy service:

Mobile UK is very concerned that consumers are not fully informed of how Private Relay works or understand the full implications of calling on the services…


The impact of Private Relay is therefore multi-dimensional and cannot be assessed solely from a privacy perspective.

Mobile UK has urged the CMA to implement “a remedy that limits the use of Private Relay” or “at the very least” to prevent “Apple from making Private Relay a default service”. The complaint noted that “Private Relay is currently disabled by default, but is already in use by a significant portion of Apple customers in the UK, despite being in beta mode.”

Private Relay should not be presented as a configuration option or installed as a default service. It should be made available as an app along with others that can compete with similar services such as VPNs. Apple must notify affected third parties prior to the introduction of Private Relay services, so that third parties can inform their customers of how their service may change if Private Relay is used. For example, advance warning of the introduction of Private Relay would have allowed network providers to inform customers of how their security solutions may change and also to inform the government of how this changes their powers of administration. survey from network traffic data.

For more information, see Mobile UK’s full submission to the CMA. ‌iCloud‌ Private Relay has faced similar skepticism in the European Union, where major mobile operators have called for Private Relay to be banned for violating EU “digital sovereignty”.

Earlier this week, Apple aggressively defended its ecosystem in its detailed response to the CMA. He said the regulator set aside Apple’s ecosystem benefits “without a reasoned basis, either ignoring them altogether or dismissing them based on nothing more than speculation.” Apple alleged that the CMA’s interim report was based on “unsubstantiated allegations and hypothetical concerns raised primarily by self-serving complaints” from a handful of multibillion-dollar companies, “all seeking to make sweeping changes. to the iPhone for their own commercial gain, without independent verification.”

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