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 (which uses GPS, Wi-Fi tracking, and Bluetooth tracking)
  • Your PC’s language and time settings (and further browser fingerprinting)

If you want to completely prevent external parties from determining your location via your browser, use a VPN in combination with a GPS spoofer.

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 Surfshark, since it can change both your virtual IP address and your GPS location:

Want to know more about tracking methods your browsers might use to determine your location? Or do you want to know what information you’re sharing with your browser right now? Read our full article below.

Many websites display your physical location on their homepage, indicating that they know exactly where you are. You might, for example, encounter a pop-up that asks whether you would prefer to visit the French version when you’re on the English version of a website while in France.

How does your browser know where you are? Is this dangerous? Maybe you want to know how to fake a GPS location or stop your browser from tracking you. These are the main questions and issues we’ll be answering in this article.

How Does My Browser Know My Location?

You might be wondering whether websites can really track your device’s location at any given moment. The answer, in most cases, is yes. The internet knows exactly where you are unless you’ve taken steps to fake a GPS location or online location by using a VPN or location spoofing.

If not, your browser leaks a massive amount of information about you. So, is your browser tracking your location? Check out our location tool below to find out.

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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. Most location-tracking happens through HTML Geolocation.

HTML5 Geolocation

One of the most common ways for your browser to track your location is through HTML5 geolocation. Most well-known browsers use this tool to share your location, which means that websites can adjust 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 a service to other pieces of software, allowing them to use a certain program or tool.

With the right API, a tool can be used by multiple other programs or tools. 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 various browsers, including Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Edge.

The HTML5 geolocation API extracts information about your location from various sources, including:

Although these are the main sources HTML5 uses, it doesn’t stop there. It may also use any information provided by users themselves. This means that you always need to be careful of the data you share about yourself online.

Below we will discuss GPS, IP addresses, Wi-Fi access points, Bluetooth, and how they give away your location in a bit more detail.

GPS on mobile devices

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. It will give websites and apps an exact answer as to where you are, so they can tell you precisely when you need to take that right turn.

However, many PCs and laptops don’t work with GPS, so the API can’t gather this information. If you get a fake GPS app to fake your GPS location on Android and iPhone, you can thwart HTML5 geolocation as well. This means that this data can no longer be gathered and used on your mobile device either. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other ways in which it might be able to determine where you are.

Location-tracking through IP address

Map with a Location Pin

Your IP address is one of the network characteristics your browser can use to identify your location, although it isn’t the most popular one for HTML5 Geolocation. IP stands for “Internet Protocol.” An IP address is nothing more than a unique code that identifies 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.

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. Are you at number 15, Park Avenue in New York? The API will know.

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. The easiest way to do this is by using a VPN. More on that later!

Do you want to know what your IP address currently reveals about you? Check out our IP address tool. On this page, you’ll see directly what others can gather from your IP address.

Wi-Fi access points

Many of the major browsers that offer location services continuously collect information about Wi-Fi access points and network IDs (SSIDs). The companies that own these browsers tend to be tech giants, such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

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 your private network 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.

You might wonder how this kind of information is used in HTML5 Geolocation. The Wi-Fi networks you come into contact with all have their own locations tied to them. 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 says something about your distance to a certain Wi-Fi network. This information can then be compared to the data of other people’s devices that 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.

Bluetooth location

Smartphone wit Bluetooth Icon

In addition to GPS signals, your IP address, and Wi-Fi networks, your Bluetooth connection can help identify your location as well. In short, Bluetooth is used for HTML5 geolocation in the same way as Wi-Fi signals.

Active Bluetooth signals in your environment can be transmitted to Google and Apple. The databases that contain all of this information are huge. This way, these companies – as well as your browser – can identify your location when your GPS is turned off.

It’s important to note that Bluetooth can give a very precise estimation of your location –- with an accuracy of up to five meters.

Can I Turn Off HTML5 Geolocation?

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, 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 raises some doubts. Does “express permission” mean that 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. How can you get around all of that?

How to Change Your Location on Google Chrome

Apart from not allowing your device to share your location with Google Chrome, you can also opt to change your location altogether. This requires a bit of know-how. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open Google Chrome.
  2. Click on the three dots in the top right corner to access settings.
  3. Hover over “More tools” and click on “Developers tools.”
  4. Locate the three dots to the left of “Console.” Click on them and now select “Sensors.”
  5. Google Chrome Inspect Developers Tools
  6. Either select one of Google’s pre-set locations or manually fill out the coordinates to choose any location in the world.
  7. Google Chrome Inspect Change Locations

Turn Off Your Location on Windows and Mac

You can also turn off location recognition in Windows or Mac, so it works for your computer as a whole. Here’s how you do that.

Windows:

  1. Search for “Location” in the search bar in Windows 10.
  2. Click on “Location Privacy Settings.”
  3. Toggle off the option “Turn Off Location.”

MacOS:

  1. Go to “Privacy” in your settings.
  2. Go to “Location Services.”
  3. Turn off “Location Services” as a whole or select the option “Never” for every app you don’t want to have access to your location.

On a related note, Apple indicates that location services on their mobile devices, such as the iPhone, automatically turn on when you call 911. This enables emergency services to 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.

Fake a GPS Location on Android With a Fake GPS App

If you want to fake your location on Android devices, or if you’re wondering how location spoofing works on Android, 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 pretty easy to find a fake GPS location app in the Play Store, so here’s a quick and brief rundown of some options you could use.

  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: In addition to spoofing your general location, this apps gives you 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 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.

Whether you’re downloading one of the apps above or a different one you found yourself, it’s important to be careful with your data. Don’t allow any application permissions that look suspicious. For example, these apps shouldn’t need access to your contact list or microphone.

How to fake a GPS location on an Android device: A simple guide

Setting up your spoofing app should be largely the same on the above applications:

  1. Download the Android GPS spoofing app of your choice.
  2. Go to your “Settings” menu and scroll down to the bottom.
  3. Tap on “About Phone” (it may also be called “System”) and then “Software Information.”
  4. Find “Build Number” and tap on this repeatedly until the phone asks for your passcode.
  5. Enter your passcode to enable “Developer Mode.” This is required for some apps on Android. You shouldn’t change any other settings here.
  6. Open your GPS spoofing app and allow the app access to your location.
  7. Choose a precise location on the map that you’d like to set as your location by dragging the pin.
  8. Click “Confirm.”

To check 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 you chose in the app!

Fake a GPS Location on iPhone

You can also fake your location on an iPhone running iOS. However, Apple is much more restrictive than Android when it comes to what you can and can’t do on its devices. Getting any custom apps or pieces of code to run dodgy software on iOS is nigh-on impossible. If Apple realizes a GPS spoofing app has managed to sneak its way onto the App Store, you can be sure it’ll vanish shortly after.

There are two ways to fake your location on iPhone, but not all of them are approved by Apple:

  • GFaker: If you’ve got some cash to splash, check out GFaker. It’s a third-party, external USB device that can spoof your GPS location on iPhone. The manufacturer uses Apple chipsets and approved components, so you’ll be in their good books.
  • Jailbreaking: A jailbroken iPhone allows for more customizations, but also comes with risks. Our complete guide on jailbreaking your iPhone will tell you how to do this and use Cydia to download a location spoofer app for iPhone, such as Location Faker or Location Handle.
  • iBackupBot: If you have a Mac available, you can use iTunes and iBackupBot to manually spoof your GPS location.

You’ll find a full guide for using iBackupBot below. However, keep in mind that Apple is against GPS spoofing. Taking these steps is at your own risk!

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

The guide below will help you with spoofing your location on iPhone. Keep in mind that you need a Mac computer for this method.

  1. Connect your iPhone to a Mac with iTunes and launch the program.
  2. Click on the phone icon and select “Back Up Now.” Wait for the backup to be completed.
  3. Download a third-party tool called iBackupBot.
  4. Close iTunes and launch iBackupBot. It should automatically detect your backup files and open them in the software.
  5. In iBackupBot, look for the Apple Maps “plist” file. This should be in one of the following directories:
    • User App Files > com.Apple.Maps > Library > Preferences
    • System Files > HomeDomain > Library > Preferences
  6. Look for <dict> in the code, and copy and paste the following text underneath it: <key>_internal_PlaceCardLocationSimulation</key> <true/>
  7. Close iBackupBot without unplugging your phone.
  8. Go into your iPhone’s settings menu and disable “Find My iPhone.”
  9. Back up your iPhone from the backup file you modified using iTunes.
  10. Open Apple Maps and navigate to a preferred GPS location.
  11. Click the 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.

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 shield your internet connection from third parties. A VPN accomplishes this by assigning you a new IP address that corresponds to one of its servers, rather than your network.

A VPN doesn’t just ensure your anonymity but also keeps your data safe. It 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. If you get the right VPN, you can even spoof your GPS as well as your IP!

Hide your location with Surfshark’s geo-spoofing feature

Surfshark is one of our favorite VPNs that will help you hide your location. It offers thousands of servers all over the globe. With a simple click, you can get an IP address in any of those places. Surfshark’s easy-to-use app and computer software make online privacy available to anyone.

One of the best features Surfshark offers, is their “Override GPS location” option on Android. This so-called GEO spoofing option makes sure your GPS location matches the location of the VPN server you’re connected to — useful if you’re trying to hide where you are or just want to protect your privacy.

To activate the “Override GPS location” option, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Surfshark app on your Android device.
  2. Connect to a VPN server in your preferred location. You can use the tab “Locations” to browse through your options.
  3. Tap “Settings” in the bottom right corner.
  4. Go to “VPN Settings.”
  5. Scroll down and open “Advanced Settings.”
  6. Tap the slider behind “Override GPS Location” so it turns green.

If you want to learn more about this VPN and its many advantages, you can read our extensive review on Surfshark.

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Tracking Location Through Browser or Operating System Settings

A globe

Unfortunately, changing your IP address and spoofing your GPS won’t always be sufficient to get your browser off your tail. Besides Wi-Fi access points and active Bluetooth connections, your settings might also be used to pinpoint where you are in the world.

Did you know that browsers might gauge your physical location based on your language preferences and time zone? Let’s see how they might do this.

Language preferences

Websites might guess the country in which you are located by checking your language preferences. There are multiple ways in which they can do this:

  • Browser language: When you install a browser 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, and so on.
  • OS language: Browsers might read information from your operating system (OS) to see which language you use on the rest of your device.
  • Website language: If you choose a certain language version of a website, that website might store this data in your user profile.

The good news is that this doesn’t give any certainties about your real location. After all, several countries around the world share multiple languages, such as English and Spanish. On top of that, many people speak a language that isn’t a dominant language in their country of residents. Take US citizens who migrate to mainland Europe, for instance. As such, this method relies, to a large extent, on guesswork.

Even so, if you want to play it safe, it’s best to choose a language that is commonly spoken in large parts of the world, like English, for both your browser and your OS.

The time zone on your computer

Your browser can also estimate your location by checking the time zone on your PC. External parties can make an educated guess about where you are based on your time zones, such as Pacific Time or GMT.

This is especially the case when they can combine your time zone with your preferred language. Through this, sites could 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 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.

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, opt for a VPN so your IP address stays hidden and no one can see what you’re doing online. Surfshark even has an Android GPS spoofer to be used on top of their regular VPN service, so you can keep your location more private. Not sold on Surfshark? Our top 5 list of the best VPNs provides you with an overview of the providers we recommend.

If you’re also careful with your settings and read up on browser fingerprinting, you’ll be helping to protect your online privacy.

How Your Browser Recognizes Your Location: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about your browser’s location tracking? Check out our FAQ below for answers!

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. Read on about browser location and tracking if you’d like to know more.

Yes. There are several ways to prevent your browser from knowing where you are:

  1. Turn off location recognition in your browser settings. Every well-known browser has this setting.
  2. 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.

Not always, although some websites might give you an indication. They might, for example, send you to a different version of their website based on your location and language choice. 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.