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New ‘Private Relay’ feature will not be available in China


Apple CEO Tim Cook delivers the keynote address during the 2020 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California.

Brooks Kraft/Apple Inc/Handout via Reuters

GUANGZHOU, China — Apple’s new feature designed to give users more privacy when browsing the web will not be available in China, one of the iPhone maker’s most important markets.

Apple revealed a new service called iCloud+ at its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday. One of the features included in that is “Private Relay.”

When users browse the internet using Safari, their data will be sent through two separate servers in order to mask the user’s identity and what sites they are visiting. As a result, even Apple or the user’s network provider cannot see that data.

It’s a little like a virtual private network (VPN) where users can route their internet traffic through a server located somewhere else in the world to mask their browsing activity.

China so-called Great Firewall effectively allows authorities to block websites from being accessed within China including Google and Facebook. VPNs are often used to get around China’s strict internet controls.

An Apple spokesperson told CNBC that Private Relay will not work in China and some other countries including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Belarus and Uganda.

Apple said it could not offer the feature in these countries due to local laws.

Using unauthorized VPNs to access blocked websites is illegal in China. While Apple’s Private Relay is not technically a VPN, it acts in a similar way.

In 2017, the U.S. technology giant removed a number of VPN services from its China App Store to comply with local regulations.



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Encrypted messaging app Signal appears to be blocked in China


The Signal Messenger app is displayed on a smartphone in Hong Kong, China.

Roy Liu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Encrypted messaging app Signal has stopped working in China and is now only accessible via a virtual private network (VPN).

China blocks many foreign apps and services including those from Facebook and Google. But Signal had previously not been barred by the so-called Great Firewall.

Signal claims to be end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company itself nor any outsiders can view the contents of messages between a sender and the intended recipient. This also means authorities cannot snoop on messages.

CNBC tested Signal on three different devices and messages did not go through, suggesting it has been blocked by authorities. The app was still available for download via Apple’s China App Store.

Signal was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

The messaging app, however, still worked when used with a VPN. A VPN or virtual private network allows users to protect privacy and circumvent internet restrictions by connecting to servers around the world.

Signal being blocked in China highlights the increasing internet censorship in the world’s second-largest economy.

Downloads of Signal surged earlier in the year after rival WhatsApp changed its terms of service to allow the sharing of some data with its parent company Facebook.

Signal is relatively small in China with 510,000 downloads to date from Apple’s App Store, according to Sensor Tower. But the app provided a rare avenue for sending encrypted messages through a foreign platform without a VPN.

Still, the dominant messaging app in China remains Tencent-owned WeChat with over a billion users.



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