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How Does Your Web Browser Know Your Location?

Written by Karl Chevalier: Digital marketing executive.
· 4 minute read

As the clock struck 12 and a new year dawned, everyone and their dog started to speculate what 2018 will bring, with many even jumping the gun and doing a review of the next 5 years! However, many people still take for granted some fantastically clever and somewhat devious tactics implemented several years ago. Today I’m going to en-devour to talk you through one of my most favorite; how does your web browser know your location?

When out and about on a Friday night it can be quite handy to find the nearest all-night pizza place, and having a smartphone in your pocket with GPS tracking is fantastic. However what about the times when you DON’T want Google knowing your location? Working at home on your desktop for instance. Desktop computers don’t have GPS, but they know your location down to a couple of meters. But how?

Well, part of how your location can be determined is through your public IP address. This is required by every site that you visit, so it knows where to send the data you have requested. Each internet service provider then owns a certain range of IP addresses, that correspond to different geographical locations that they then assign to different customers. Since these addresses are assigned to different internet service providers by large registries  that make location data public, it is relatively easy for sites to know your rough location.

However, as simple as this may be, it does not explain how Google maps and other such services can pinpoint the exact location of your home PC. The trick is deviously simple and unknown to many. Yet this simple trick is how many services are easily marketed to us online from our location.

If you router has ever been connected to, or has even been in range of a GPS enabled gadget such as a mobile phone, that phone will take the ‘mac’ addresses of all the wireless access points that are close enough for them to ‘see’. Your phone will then forward this information to a data base owned by Google if you are on Android, or Apple if you are using an iPhone.

This is a very powerful marketing tool from Google, and one that many people take for granted, as it has become the ‘norm’ to simply have your every move watched online.