How Does Your Browser Know Your Location and How To Hide It

How Does Your Browser Determine Your Location
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How Your Browser Knows Where You Are: A Brief Summary

Your browser uses different types and sources of information to identify your location. These include your IP address, geolocation via HTML5 in your browser, and your PC’s language and time settings.

If you want to completely prevent external parties from determining your location via your browser, use a VPN. A VPN renders your activity on the internet much more anonymous and ensures you won’t have to worry about the settings of your browser or PC. VPNOverview recommends ExpressVPN:

As soon as you’ve installed ExpressVPN, it will be much more difficult for other parties to determine your location. After all, your internet traffic will be directed through a server at a different location. That means the location that’s visible to others, is the location of the VPN server you’re using.

Have you ever wondered how browsers always seem to know your location? You’ve probably noticed that many websites display your location on their homepage, indicating that they know (exactly) where you are. For example, if you’re on the English version of a website, but your browser recognizes that you’re in France, a pop-up might ask whether you would prefer to visit the French version.

How does your browser know where you are? And is the fact that it knows this information a problem? Maybe you want to know how to fake your GPS location or stop your browser tracking you. These are the main questions and issues that we’ll be answering in this article.

How Does My Browser Know My Location?

You might be wondering whether websites can really just track your location at any given moment. The answer is probably “yes”. The internet knows exactly where you are unless you’ve taken steps to fake your GPS or online location by using a VPN or location spoofing for example. If not, then your browser probably leaks a massive amount of information about you. Is your browser tracking your location? Check out our location tool below; it can show you whether this is the case for you:

We found your location!

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There are several ways in which your browser can track your location. Some of these techniques are highly accurate, while others give more of a rough estimation of your location. The ease with which you can prevent your location from being tracked also differs from one way to the next. We will explain the best-known and most popular techniques below.

HTML5 Geolocation

One of the most common ways for your browser to track your location is via something called HTML5 geolocation. Most well-known browsers use this tool to share your location, which means that websites can adjust things like advertisements or languages to your location.

HTML5 geolocation works via an Application Programming Interface (API). Simply put, an API is a software interface that offers some kind of service to other pieces of software that talk to it. Most software tools have an API. With the right API, a tool can be used by multiple other programs or tools. So, the browsers that want to track your location use browser tools that communicate with the HTML5 Geolocation API. This makes it possible to use location tracking in Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, and other browsers.

This specific API extracts information about your location from various sources. GPS is one of the most important sources for mobile devices. It’s the same technology that Google Maps, Apple Maps, and other navigation apps use. However, many PCs and laptops don’t work with GPS, so the API can’t gather this information. You can even get a fake GPS app to fake your GPS location on Android and iPhone. This means that this data can no longer be gathered and used on your mobile device either.

Unfortunately, the HTML5 Geolocation API uses more than just GPS to track your location. They also read network signals, such as your IP address, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth information, as well as specific information that’s entered by users themselves. The latter means that you always need to take care of which data about yourself you share while online. Below we will discuss IP addresses, Wi-Fi access points, Bluetooth, and how they give away your location in a bit more detail.

Your IP address gives away your location

Map with location arrowFirstly, your IP address is one of the network characteristics your browser can use to identify your location. IP stands for “Internet Protocol”. An IP address is nothing more than a unique code that is used to identify the internet network you’re connected to. Even if you’re using GPS spoofing, you’ll still be giving away your IP and your actual location if you’re not using a VPN.

Your IP address shares the location of your network with websites and other online entities. In other words, if someone has your IP address, they can find out your location as well. This makes your IP a good source of information for the HTML5 location API. This location can be as accurate as your street and house number, so a website could see you are at number 15, Park Avenue in New York, for instance.

Worse still, websites can identify your IP address, even if you didn’t give your browser permission to use HTML5 geolocation. In other words, your IP address can betray your location to the entire internet even without HTML5 geolocation. After all, your IP address is how your devices communicate with the internet. If your IP address wasn’t sent to the websites you visit, you wouldn’t be able to access them. Does this mean you can’t be anonymous online? Absolutely not. There are ways to hide your IP address so that your location isn’t shared online. There’s more on this further down in the article.

In the meantime, if you want to know what your IP address currently says about you, check out our IP address tool. On this page, you’ll see directly what others can gather from your IP address. We’ve established that your IP address provides a lot of information about you, and yet this isn’t the most popular method used in HTML5 geolocation. That honor goes to a combination of GPS and other factors, such as your Wi-Fi information.

Location information based on Wi-Fi access points

Big companies that have their own browsers (with location services) continuously collect information about Wi-Fi Access Points and network IDs (SSIDs). These companies tend to be tech giants, such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft. The information they gather can also reveal where you are, and so this is another tool used in HTML5 geolocation.

All Wi-Fi access points in your vicinity can be picked up by your device, no matter whether they’re public Wi-Fi hotspots, such as the ones at McDonald’s or in shops, or private networks (e.g. at home). Even if you don’t connect to those Wi-Fi networks – even if you don’t know the passwords! – information about them is stored. The Wi-Fi networks you come into contact with say a lot about location. Even if you simply walk past a McDonald’s on your way to work, your browser can track you to that location!

Big companies like Google can combine information about Wi-Fi networks with GPS information, to find out more about your location. Even the strength of a Wi-Fi signal can say something about your distance to a certain Wi-Fi network. This information can then be compared to the same data of devices of other people who do have their GPS activated. This way, companies can find out where you are, even when you’ve hidden your IP address and your GPS is turned off. Scary, right?

Bluetooth location

In addition to GPS signal, your IP address, and Wi-Fi networks, your Bluetooth connection can help identify your location as well. As soon as enable GPS, your location data, including active Bluetooth signals in your environment, are transmitted to Google and Apple. The databases in which all of this information ends up are huge. This way, these companies – as well as your browser – can identify your location when your GPS is turned off.

In short, Bluetooth is used for HTML5 geolocation in the same way as Wi-Fi signals. It’s important to note that Bluetooth can give a very precise estimation of your location – with an accuracy of up to five meters.

HTML5 Geolocation Needs User Permission

If you give Google Chrome permission to share your location with a website, that browser sends local network information to Google Location Services. This way, the browser can estimate your location. That estimation is then shared with the website. Your browser can subsequently make a more accurate estimation by combining Wi-Fi access points, GPS, local router(s), and your IP address.

The good news is that it’s fairly easy to stop this process: if you don’t give your device permission to share your location with your browser, then the browser can’t make this more accurate estimation. This stops the HTML5 geolocation, so your sensitive information can’t be used by websites – so make sure to always have this turned off in your settings. This way, you disable the most accurate technique used by browsers to recognize your location.

Revoking permission does not guarantee anything

The developers of the API for HTML5 geolocation have set rules for the use of their technology. Below is a quote from a manual for the HTML5 Geolocation API, from the World Wide Web Consortium:

“A conforming implementation of this specification must provide a mechanism that protects the user’s privacy and this mechanism should ensure that no location information is made available through this API without the user’s express permission.”

In other words: users of the API must protect the privacy of their visitors and make sure that no location information will be made available through the API without the visitor having given express permission. This is a rather clear statement, but still one could have one’s reservations. Does “express permission” mean that each and every website and platform that uses the API should give a notification to ask for permission? Or does it suffice to include the use of the API in the privacy statement?

In addition, the fact remains that even without using HTML5 geolocation, there are other ways to identify your location – like tracking your IP address. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to put an end to this as well, which we discuss below.

How to Fake Your GPS Location on Android

If you want to fake your location on Android devices, or if you’re wondering how location spoofing works on the Android OS (operating system), look no further. Thankfully, Google offers app developers a lot of freedom on the Google Play Store, so it’s as simple as downloading the right application and setting things up.

It’s actually pretty easy to find a fake GPS location app in the Play Store right now, so here’s a quick and brief rundown of some you could use. From reviews and the privacy policy associated with each app, these should be good choices. Still, we always recommend reading through them yourself and making a call on whether you’re happy that your data is being kept safe. Don’t allow any applications permissions that look suspicious (for example, these apps shouldn’t need access to your contact list or microphone).

  1. Fake GPS Location: This is a pretty nice app with a decent UI (user interface). User feedback is good too, with a 4/5-star rating from thousands of reviews. Best of all, it’s free.
  2. Mock GPS: This one is pretty interesting. In addition to spoofing your general location, there’s a GPS joystick app mode that lets you move yourself around without actually taking a single step.
  3. Fake GPS GO Location Spoofer: This app was actually designed with “Pokemon GO” players in mind. The UI isn’t quite as nice as “Fake GPS Location” above, but you could give it a try if you have teething issues with the others.

How to fake your GPS location on an Android Device: A simple guide

Now you’ve got yourself a mock location app, you can go through the process of setting it up. This should be largely the same on the above applications, but generally speaking:

  1. Download an Android GPS spoofing app of your choice.
  2. Go to your settings menu and scroll down to the bottom. Tap on “About Phone” (it may also be called “System”) and then “Software Information”. Then, find “Build Number” and tap on this repeatedly until the phone asks for your passcode. Input this, and you’ll enable Developer mode. This is required for some apps on Android, but provided you don’t change any settings in here, you should be fine.
  3. Open your GPS spoofing app and allow the app to access your location.
  4. Choose a location on the map that you’d like to set as your location by dragging the pin.
  5. Click the confirm button.

To check that you’re spoofing your GPS location properly, open Google and search for “My location”. You should now see a small map showing your location as the area that you chose in the app!

How to Fake Your GPS Location on iPhone

So, we’ve looked at how to fake your location on an Android phone; now, we’ll look at how to fake your location on an iPhone running iOS. What we will say about iPhones is this: Apple are much more restrictive around what you can do with iOS compared to the Android OS. Getting any custom apps or pieces of code to run dodgy software on iOS is nigh-on impossible.

Also, Apple doesn’t like you spoofing your iPhone location. If they realize that a GPS spoofing app has managed to sneak its way onto the App Store, you can be sure it’ll vanish shortly afterwards. This is why to spoof GPS on an iPhone, some people might jailbreak an iPhone. To fully understand the risks of jailbreaking your iPhone, do check out our complete guide on the process before you go any further.

That said, there is a way to fake your location on your iPhone without jailbreaking. Again, we’ll remind you that Apple is against GPS spoofing and you take these steps at your own risk!

How to fake your GPS location on an iPhone: A simple guide

  1. Connect your iPhone to a Mac with iTunes and launch the program. Click on the phone icon and select “Back Up Now”.
  2. Download a third-party tool called iBackupBot.
  3. When the backup is complete, close iTunes and launch iBackupBot – it should automatically detect your backup files and open them in the software.
  4. In iBackupBot, look for the Apple Maps “plist” file. This should be in one of the following directories:
    1. “User App Files > com.Apple.Maps > Library > Preferences”
    2. “System Files > HomeDomain > Library > Preferences.”
  5. Once you’ve located the file, look for <dict> in the code, then copy and paste the following text underneath it:
    1. <key>_internal_PlaceCardLocationSimulation</key>
      <true/>
  6. Close iBackupBot without unplugging your phone.
  7. Go into your iPhone’s settings menu and disable “Find My iPhone”.
  8. Now, simply backup your iPhone from the backup file you created – and modified – using iTunes.

Once you’ve done the above, you should be able to open Apple Maps, navigate to a preferred GPS location, and you’ll see a button at the bottom of the app to simulate your location. Now, you’ve got a fake GPS location! You can test this with other location based apps, including dating apps.

Of course, all of this is dodgy stuff in Apple’s eyes. If you’ve got some cash to splash, you should check out GFaker. It’s a third-party, external USB device that can spoof your GPS location on iPhone, and best of all, Apple’s happy for you to do so. The manufacturer uses Apple chipsets and approved components, so you’ll be in their good books.

Use a VPN for Anonymous Browsing

If you want a guarantee that websites won’t be able to see your IP address, you should use a VPN to completely shield your connection from third parties. A VPN doesn’t just ensure your anonymity but also keeps your data safe. A VPN encrypts all your internet traffic, making it more difficult for cybercriminals to obtain your data. This also means your browser won’t be able to determine your location based on your IP address as easily.

One of the best VPN services we have tested is ExpressVPN. This is a very safe and trustworthy provider, which also offers simple and user-friendly software. ExpressVPN lets you shield your IP address from spies in just one click. It’s that simple.

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Browser or Operating System Settings

There is another way for websites to guess the country in which you are located: they might check your language preferences. When you install a browser on your device and adjust the settings, you choose the language you want to use. As such, websites can guess that users in Spain will opt for Spanish, while users in Sweden will opt for Swedish, etc. Browsers can usually read from your operating system which language you’re using, making it fairly easy to determine your most likely country of residence.

Airplane above planet EarthThe good news is that this has nothing to do with your real location, because you could set the language to Arabic while you are in Denmark, for example. Moreover, several countries around the world share multiple languages, such as English and Spanish. Lastly, there are many people who speak a certain language but don’t live in the country that uses that language the most. Take US citizens who migrate to mainland Europe, for instance (e.g. France or Spain). As such, this method relies, to a large extent, on guesswork.

Note: if a website asks whether you want to view a certain page in Spanish, and you click “yes”, the website might store this data in your user profile. This way, third parties will still be able to learn that you speak Spanish and are therefore likely from Spain, Mexico, or another Spanish-speaking country. If you really want to make sure websites don’t use this kind of information, it’s best not to comply with such suggestions on websites.

The time zone on your computer

Another way for your browser to estimate your location is by checking the time zone on your PC. External parties can make an educated guess about where you are based on your timezones, such as Pacific Time or GMT.

Websites could estimate the country you’re in, especially if they combine your time zone with your preferred language. This way sites can differentiate between Portuguese-speaking people from Portugal and Brazil, for instance. Collecting and combining these little pieces of information that by themselves seem unimportant is also known as browser fingerprinting.

If a browser can only read your language preferences and time zone, you’re still as good as unrecognizable, because you might as well be in one of the other countries in that time zone. This is especially likely if you have chosen a common language, such as English.

Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. If you want to know more about how you can adjust your computer settings in such a way that websites and other parties get as little information about you as possible, you can read our article about browser fingerprinting.

Operating system settings

You can also turn off location recognition in Windows itself. When you search for “location” in the search bar in Windows 10, you’ll see the option “location privacy settings”. If you click on this and toggle off the option “turn off location”, you’ll be turning off location recognition for your entire operating system.

In macOS, you can turn off location recognition by going to “Privacy” and then “Location Services” in your settings. Then, you can turn off “Location Services” as a whole, or select the option “Never” for every app you don’t wish to reveal your location to.

On a related note, Apple indicates that location services on their mobile devices, such as the iPhone, automatically turn on when you call 911, for instance. This measure is to make things easier for emergency services and ensure you can get help. Of course, this doesn’t apply to laptops, but it does highlight how turning off location recognition isn’t always a guarantee of privacy.

What Your Browser Knows About You

Your location is one of the characteristics by which websites and online platforms can determine your identity. Do you want to see what your browser, and therefore websites, know about you? Click below to get an overview of the information that is freely available from your device. If you haven’t taken any steps to stay anonymous (yet), your browser will be able to estimate your location very accurately.

How Your Browser Knows Where You Are

There are various ways for external parties to estimate your location online. In addition to your IP address, browsers can see your location via HTML5 geolocation, while some websites even make an estimation based on your preferred language and time zone.

If you want to be safer and more anonymous online, opt for a VPN so your IP address stays hidden and no one can see what you’re doing online. Our top 5 list of the best VPNs right now provides you with an overview of the providers that we recommend. If you’re also careful with your settings and browser fingerprinting, you’ll be helping to protect your online privacy.

How your browser recognizes your location: frequently asked questions

Do you have a burning question you want answered quickly? Have a look at our frequently asked questions below and your question might just be answered in no time.

There are several ways in which a browser can see your location, but HTML5 geolocation is by far the most commonly used method – especially by well-known browsers like Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. This technology collects information from your IP address and the unique information of the network you’re connected to by using an API. You can read more about how this works right here.

There are several ways to prevent your browser from knowing where you are. Firstly, it’s possible to turn off location recognition in your browser settings; every well-known browser has this setting.

Secondly, you can use a VPN. This is the easiest way to make sure no one can see your IP address – and therefore your location – both within and outside your browser. For more information, read our full article about VPNs.

You can’t always see whether a website knows your location, but some websites give a notification if they think you’re viewing the wrong version of their website. This may occur, for instance, when you’re viewing a Spanish page while an English version of that page is also available. Other sites will even switch automatically to the version of the country where you’re located. One example of this is Google, which automatically shows the British version of its search engine if you’re in the United Kingdom.

You can use our tool to see what information your browser has about you, including your location.

Security research coordinator
Priscilla is VPNOverview’s chief editor and has several years of experience in tech, specifically when it comes to VPNs and product reviews. She helps coordinate the team and ensures that all content on our website is honest and accessible.