Humanity has come a long way and we’ve reached such a technological age that nowadays very few people could live completely disconnected from the online world. Everything is digital or has some sort of internet component which, whether we like it or not, means that it’s pretty easy to track our real location. The general public doesn’t care about this but they should be more aware, because the truth is it’s not that companies only spy on their customers through their mobile apps but via other ingenious techniques that are used daily.
Surely VPNs are a great help to avoid the most of this, but they can only stretch so far before another method surpasses them. So how can you protect your location and still stay a part of the online world?
The Extent of VPNs
Most of the time, VPNs are a great help for remaining safe and anonymous online. They allow for circumventing geographical restrictions on streaming services and also provide the necessary protection against the prying eyes of ISPs. Likewise, they’re also important to a safely manage bank accounts or to enjoy some sweet discounts when shopping online.
But nowadays, unfortunately, this is no longer a 100% guarantee of privacy. Without mentioning some of the most common vulnerabilities within some VPNs such as DNS leaks, there are other issues that not even the best providers can handle. One of these is the fact that many websites and mobile apps – such as online shops – are starting to use GPS coordinates to pinpoint users’ real locations instead of through the IP address, the latter of which is easily handled by VPNs.
To get around this issue you should disable the browser’s HTML5 geolocation, an easy process that can be done either in the advanced settings of the different browsers or, in the case of Firefox, by typing “about:config” into the address bar. This means that websites will be unable to use such data to determine someone’s real location and will therefore turn to the old IP address method. In turn, using a VPN to disguise the real location remains a viable solution as before.
Another possible solution – though more technically demanding – is manually altering latitude and longitude coordinates to match the ones attributed by the VPN. This is done in a browser’s console and can take some time to master since it requires different coordinates each time a new VPN connection is established. But it’s a trustworthy method in the end, too.
GPS Tracking on Mobile Devices
It’s always advisable to pay close attention to the permissions allowed when installing new apps. The fewer, the better in this case, but it’s understandable that some of them do need to have access to the user’s GPS coordinates. How can Google Maps, for instance, provide the best route and guide you to your destination if the app doesn’t know where you are? Or how can Uber drivers pick you up and take you to where you want if they can’t find you?
In these cases precise geolocation is a necessity, but many people don’t know that smartphones and tablets are actively using GPS to track their owners – even outside of specific app uses. In turn, this allows certain apps to send their accurate location back to the companies – even if a VPN is being used – without the user knowing even about it. In some cases this can be solved the same way as with computer browsers, by turning off whatever function is enabling location services, but sometimes it requires a little more than that.
Android and iOS mobile devices have geolocation features enabled by default that allow people to track and find their devices in case they are lost. But as such they are also constantly revealing your precise location to Google and Apple, which may be enough to make a VPN useless. Fortunately, deactivating this is easy on both operating systems; just visit the privacy and location settings (or security and location on Android) and turn them off for good. Obviously this will affect the functionality of the aforementioned ‘find my device’ feature, but it’s still good to reclaim some of the little privacy we have these days.
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