UK network operators target iCloud private relay in complaint to regulator

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

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in his Reply to CMA‘s Interim Report on Mobile EcosystemA trade association of British mobile network operators including Mobile UK, EE, Virgin Media O2, Three and Vodafone has raised concerns that Cloud Private Relay could have negative effects on user experience, internet security and competition.

iCloud Private Relay was the new service introduced with iOS 15 that allows all traffic leaving an iPhone, iPad, or Mac to be encrypted using two separate Internet relays, so that companies can create detailed information such as IP addresses, locations, and locations. and use personal information such as browsing activity. About users profile.

Following a formal complaint from Microsoft about Private Relay, Mobile UK claims that the privacy service can have unwanted side effects for users: “Private Relay affects Apple users in many ways, not just what level of user support is required for them.” Privacy is needed.” For example, “Apple users have encountered a poor browsing experience while using Private Relay.” It is alleged to have the potential to induce users to “migrate” apps downloaded from the Safari browser to the App Store where Apple can earn commissions.

Private Relay prevents network providers from seeing network traffic from Safari and unencrypted applications. To prevent network operators from seeing this traffic, Mobile UK says private relay prevents service providers from understanding “demand patterns on mobile networks”, impeding their ability to effectively diagnose customer problems. it occurs.

In addition, Private Relay is accused of compromising “content filtering, malware, anti-scamming and phishing protection provided by network providers”. Mobile UK also claims that private relay is a threat to national security, as it is available under the government’s investigative powers “with implications for law enforcement in relation to terrorism, serious organized crime, child sexual abuse and exploitation”. undermines insight”. ,

The private relay reportedly allows Apple to “leverage its considerable market power in multiple market segments and thus be able to further consolidate its position.” Mobile UK says that due to the private relay, “providers will be unable to use traffic data to develop their own competing mobile browsers in the future,” as well as other services that compete directly with Apple:

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

Mobile UK claims that the ability of UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to “differentiate and compete in the market on fair terms” has been actively undermined by private relays as Apple is effectively becoming an ISP:

Apple unilaterally ended the role of mobile and fixed connectivity providers in resolving Internet connections, with Apple taking over the role of ISP. The role of the mobile and fixed connectivity provider is reduced to providing access to the Apple iCloud platform from the handset/home.

Mobile UK is concerned that “Apple may thus take advantage of its position in the device and operating system to grow its iCloud+ user base on developing its position as an ISP.”

In addition, the trade association said Private Relay directs users to more Apple services, “accessing the Internet in a manner curated by Apple.” Private Relay enables Apple to “favour its own proprietary applications and service at the expense of other providers.”

Mobile UK also said that Private Relay “affects competition in mobile browsers,” highlighting that “rival browsers cannot easily differentiate themselves” as a result of Apple’s WebKit browser engine ban. The organization complains that users “cannot switch to an alternative browser” to skirt private relays because “the ability of a rival browser to differentiate itself from Safari will still be limited by the terms of Apple’s browser engine.”

Finally, the trade association states that private relays should be regulated beyond their superficial existence as a privacy service:

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


Therefore the impact of private relays is multifaceted and cannot be assessed through a privacy lens alone.

Mobile UK urged the CMA to implement “a measure that limits the use of private relays” or “at the very least” “prevent Apple from making private relays the default-on service.” The complaint states that “Private Relay is currently default-off, but is already being used by a significant portion of Apple customers in the UK, despite being in beta mode.”

Private Relay should not be presented as a set up option or set up as a default service. It should be made available as an app that can compete with others with similar services like VPN. Apple must notify relevant third parties prior to commencing private relay services, so that third parties may notify their customers of how their service may change to use private relay. For example, advance warning of the introduction of private relay would have allowed network providers to inform customers about how their security solutions might change and also inform the government that it would be able to access their scrutiny power from network traffic data. How to change insight.

For more information see Mobile UK’s full presentation to the CMA, Cloud Private Relay has come under similar suspicion in the European Union, where major mobile operators sought to ban private relays for violating the EU’s “digital sovereignty”.

Earlier this week, Apple aggressively defended its ecosystem in its detailed response to the CMA. It said the regulator dismissed Apple’s ecosystem benefits “without reasoning, either completely ignoring them or based on nothing more than speculation.” Apple alleged that the CMA’s interim report was based on “baseless allegations and hypothetical concerns raised primarily by self-service complaints” from a handful of multi-billion dollar companies, “all in the iPhone for their own commercial gain.” Were seeking deeper changes, without independent verification.”