Apple’s always adding new privacy features to iOS, and iOS 15 brings a couple of welcome additions. Mail Privacy Protection hides your IP address from web-based content in emails when using Apple’s Mail app, and blocks techniques like tracking pixels that can let senders know if you’ve opened the mail. iCloud Private Relay hides your real IP address and precise location when using Safari.
They’re great new tools for iPhone, iPad, and Mac…but you’ll notice there’s an important device left off that list: Apple Watch.
Developer Mysk pointed out on twitter that Mail Privacy Protection does not work on Apple Watch. Even if it’s enabled on the associated iPhone, the Mail app on Apple Watch will download content using your real IP address. Perhaps more worrying, any web content downloaded in a notification preview of the email will do so, too. If you’re using Mail Privacy Protection, you should probably disable notifications from the Mail app on Apple Watch, or at least only enable notifications for trusted senders like your VIP list. You can do this on the Watch app on your iPhone, in the Mail app settings.
What’s more, iCloud Private Relay does not work on Apple Watch either, even when enabled on the associated iPhone. This is not typically a problem–people don’t do a lot of web browsing on their Apple watch, which doesn’t even have a Safari app. But it does have a built-in browser to view web links, like those that may be sent to you in Messages, for example. If you open any website, say from a link in Messages, it will load the content from your Apple Watch’s real IP address without using iCloud Private Relay.
Unfortunately, there’s no real workaround for these issues other than to avoid opening links or emails on your Apple Watch and controlling which Mail messages get a full preview notification. You can adjust your preview settings in the Watch app on your iPhone under Mail. Apple is including the App Privacy Report on the Apple Watch as part of watchOS 8.3, so it’s possible that it will change the settings for mail activity and private relay as well.
I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.