In June 2021 at WWDC Apple announced a number of privacy-related features, including a feature they call “Private Relay”, which hides your IP address by passing your internet data between Apple’s servers and an additional 3rd party server, meaning the server you are communicating with never know your real IP. This is similar to the Tor system used for secret communication in many repressive states.
On a mobile phone, your ISP is of course your carrier, and it seems they are not taking too kindly to not having access to your browsing data.
9to5Mac reports that multiple European carriers and T-Mobile USA are blocking the Private Relay feature over cellular data.
When you try to use the feature on cellular data, an error message says:
Your cellular plan doesn’t support iCloud Private Relay. With Private Relay turned off, this network can monitor your internet activity, and your IP address is not hidden from known trackers or websites.
T-Mobile had earlier complained that the feature cuts off networks and servers from accessing “vital network data and metadata and could impact “operator’s ability to efficiently manage telecommunication networks.”
It seems more likely however that the feature interferes with the carriers profiting from your browsing data and makes surveillance on behalf of governments more difficult.
It is unclear why Apple made the feature carrier dependent, but the company has already agreed to deactivate it in numerous repressive regimes, including China, Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Uganda and the Philippines.
Apple said the intent of the feature is to stop advertisers from tracking internet users. Many pundits have said instead Apple’s real motivation for its privacy push is to undermine advertising-funded companies such as Facebook and Google, and direct such companies to generate money via its own APIs and App Store, where it can take a generous cut of their revenue. It is notable that Apple still tracks users on its own platform while forbidding other companies from doing the same, and of course the feature will see all of your data run through Apple’s servers, something which was not true before.