Have you ever considered that you may be sending your location data when you use Google or visit a website? And if so, have you ever realized that this can affect your search results and compromise your privacy? In this blog we tell you how you (un)consciously share your location data, why this can be undesirable and what you can do about it.
What kind of location data are we talking about?
Open Google.com en typ in the following: “Where am I”. Very likely you will see a map like the one below.Does the map you see match your exact current location?This depends on a number of things.Google uses your device location, labeled places, location history, activity history and the IP address of your internet connection. We will have a closer look at these location services below.
Your device location
You can set the location permissions of your device on a computer, a laptop and a telephone.With these settings you can choose whether or not websites receive insight into your current location.Do you give permission to share your location?Then your exact location will often be used.How is your exact location found?For example, via the WiFi networks that are located nearby your device.
Your labeled places
The “labeled places” function implies that you can label places on the map if you are logged in via Google.For example, have you entered your home or work address?Then Google can try to estimate your location if you are likely to be nearby of these locations.
Your location history
The “location history” feature implies that Google can use the location of your signed-in devices to estimate your current location.Before Google can use your location history, you must first be logged in to your Google account.
Your activity history
Google uses your past activity to determine your location in two ways.First of all, Google keeps track of all your searches if you are logged in.Via Google Dashboard you can see what your previous activities have been. Second, Google tracks your activities even if you are not logged in.This is done, for example, via cookies.
Your IP address
If you visit a website at home via the internet, the IP address that you have received from your Internet Service Provider (for example KPN or Ziggo in The Netherlands) is visible to the website (the server) you are visiting.Since IP addresses are roughly (never exactly!) based on geographic locations, Google can map your location based on an IP address.Although this will never be your exact location, Google will see which country and possibly which region you are currently located in.
What harm can sharing location data do?
Sharing location data can be undesirable for two reasons.First, location data can compromise your privacy (and therefore your security).Second, location data can ensure that your search results are not “clean” but are directed based on your location.Below we will talk about this in more detail.
Location data & privacy
By sending your location data, the service you use can determine your (approximate) location.This means that, for example, the search engine you visit knows where you currently are.And that can be, for example, your home address or your work location.Do you want to keep your home or work location hidden?Then it is important that you change your location settings and permissions.You can read more about this below.
Location data & searching
You may have noticed that Google shows you results that match what you are searching for.This is because Google’s algorithms are structured in such a way that results are shown that are as relevant as possible to you.On the one hand Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Advertising (SEA) play a role, but on the other hand also things such as your own search history, your language settings, your IP address and your location data.
And that works very easy: if Google knows that you are looking for a bicycle repair shop from Amsterdam, Google will mainly show bicycle repair shops from Amsterdam in the search results.After all, these bicycle repair shops are probably the most relevant to you.However, this may not be desirable.You may not be looking for bicycle repair shops from Amsterdam at all.This also applies to your research: you want to see “clean” search results.
Hiding your location
Now that you know how Google can determine your location and why that may be undesirable, you may want to do hide your location data.Below we discuss 8 tips that can be useful to prevent your exact location from being shared with Google and third parties.
Tip 1: hide your device location
To prevent Google from determining your exact location, it is useful to set the location permissions of your device.In the Mozilla Firefox web browser you do this as follows:
Step 1: click on the “hamburger menu” at the top right of your screen and select “Settings“
Step 2: first click on the “Privacy & Security” tab and then click on “Setttings” next to “Location”.
Step 3: check the option “Block new requests to access your location” and then click “Save changes“.If a website now requests to access your device’s location data, this request will automatically be denied.This ensures that you will no longer share the location data of your device with third parties.
Tip 2: do not log in to Google
Make sure you are not logged into Google.On the one hand, this prevents Google from finding out your location based on places you have labeled, and on the other, you also prevent Google from mapping your location based on your previous activities.
Tip 3: opt-out of search functionalities based on your past activities
Go to https://www.google.com/history/optout and uncheck the “Use search activity that is logged when you are logged out” option.This prevents Google from mapping your location based on previous activities, such as your previous search history.
Tip 4: change your tracking settings
Websites can track your behavior on the internet via social media trackers, cookies and fingerprinters.To ensure that you are not not or less tracked, you can block the above trackers and other malicious scripts via your browser settings.Below you see the settings of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, which you can set via the hamburger menu, via the option “Settings” and the tab “Privacy & Security“.
Tip 5: change your cookie settings
Set through the privacy settings of your web browser that cookies are automatically cleaned as soon as you close a website.Below you can see the settings of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, which you can also set via the hamburger menu, via the option “Settings” and the tab “Privacy & Security“.
Tip 6: hide your IP address
To ensure that your location cannot be mapped based on your IP address, you will have to hide your IP address.Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit websites without sharing an IP address, but you can choose to use a proxy server, a VPN server or the TOR browser.For example, if you use a VPN server, the IP address of the VPN server will be visible to the website you visit.Please think about whether the use of a proxy server, a VPN server or the TOR browser is desirable in your investigation.
Tip 7: use a browser extension such as NoScript
Do you want to prevent your web browser from executing “malicious” scripts that are active on websites?Then use, for example, the browser extension NoScript. Keep in mind that the use of this extension can cause websites to stop working or not work properly.This extension may also block “normal” scripts that are required for the functionality of a website.
Tip 8: combine the abovementioned tips!
To ensure that you no longer share your location, it is useful to combine the abovementioned tips.For example, do you only use a VPN server, but do you not set the location permissions of your device?Then Google can still find out your location based on, for example, the Wi-Fi networks that are located in your area.
Would you like to know more about how you can guarantee your privacy and operational security (OPSEC) on the internet? Please contact us.