Can websites see your physical location?
Can websites find out exactly where you are? Do they know the address of your home and work? What should you do about it?
The websites you visit can determine your natural geographical location in a number of ways. Your IP address reveals your general area, unless you are using a VPN. In addition, websites may also request a more expensive location for you.
|What your IP address says on websites|
Your ISP provides you with a public and unique IP address. All devices on your home network share this IP address and your address is unique on the internet.
When you link to a site, that site sees your IP address. Your computer connects to the corresponding IP address of the site and the site sends data back to your own IP address. Packets are transmitted over network routers and the IP address on these packets informs the routers where to go.
However, websites cannot trace your physical home or business address to this unique IP address. Instead, websites can link your IP address to your ISP and city. That's why you see ads for local businesses in your city.
For example, if you go to a site like IP Location Finder , you will see that the site can use your IP address to identify your ISP, along with your local city and country.
But that's all the information that websites can get. They do not know your physical address in this city or region.
Although this usually works well, it is not perfect. Websites, for example, may sometimes assume that your IP address is in a different city than the one you live in.
|Websites can ask for your exact location|
Websites can sometimes see your exact physical location, but they must ask you first. When a site requests your site, modern web browsers display a license prompt.
For example, a weather website might want to show you the weather at your exact location, or a retail store website might want to show you all its nearby stores and the exact distance to your location. A mapping site could use your physical location to provide navigation instructions and so on.
When a site wants this access, you will see a question in your browser asking for it. If you say yes, then you will give the site permanent access to your site, it will always be able to see your site without having to ask you again, every time you load the site into your browser.
To control which sites can see your site, you need to check your browser settings. For example, in Chrome, click Menu> Settings> Privacy & Security> Website Settings> Location. Alternatively go straight to the address chrome: // setings / content / location.
You will see a list of sites that are allowed to see your site under the "Allowed" heading.
Also in the Chrome address bar you can see a place mark when a site has accessed your site. Other browsers work similarly, providing a visual indication of each current page.
|How can your devices find your exact location?|
If you use a mobile phone or tablet with built-in GPS (satellite connection), your exact location is determined using GPS and then provided on the website. This works on iPhone, iPad, Android, and even some Windows 10 tablets.
But what if you use a computer with Wi-Fi?
If it has Wi-Fi connectivity and you have it open (regardless of whether it is connected to a network) your device can use Wi-Fi-based location services. It scans for a list of nearby Wi-Fi networks and related signal capabilities so your exact location can be estimated and then provided to the site if you choose to allow it. This same function is used on mobile platforms when there is no fixed GPS signal.
And what if you use a computer without Wi-Fi?
In other words, you just have a computer connected to an Ethernet cable. In this scenario, you will not be able to give an exact physical location to a site. If you try, you will end up providing a more general location based on your IP address, probably just the city in which you live.
|Lots of crossover location data and information|
By the way, it is technically possible for websites and ad networks to cross-reference data. They may be able to link your IP address to a physical address.
For example, suppose you have many devices on your network and they all share a single IP address, the usual situation in a Greek home. Now, suppose a device on the network goes to a specific site, which we will call "Company-X" and gives access to your exact location. Company X now knows the current physical address associated with the IP address.
Now, suppose you enter Company-X with another device and you are denied access to your exact location. Company-X's website may not work as well for you as it does for your exact location. However, Company X knows your IP address and knows that the IP address was linked to a specific location.
We do not know how many companies link this data together in this way. However, some websites and ad tracking networks probably do. It is definitely possible with the technology they have.
In tests we did, the website Google.gr did not ask us to tell him our address, when we searched for various terms, although he had previously requested it and we had banned it. Of course we have allowed it on our mobile phone. Strange, don't you think?
|VPN and hide your location|
When you access a site through a VPN, you connect directly to the VPN server, and the VPN server connects to the site on your behalf. It acts as an intermediary, moving back and forth.
So when you get access a website via VPN, the site will see the IP address of this VPN, but will not know your IP address. So VPNs allow you to bypass geographical restrictions on the web. If a website or streaming service is only available in the UK and you are in Greece, you can connect to a UK-based VPN and access the site. Ultimately, the site believes you are logged in from a VPN address located in the UK.
Update: Note that, if you are connected to a VPN and give a site permission to see your physical location in your browser, that site may be able to see your actual location.
Your web browser will still be able to pinpoint your location from nearby Wi-Fi hotspots (if it has Wi-Fi) or GPS (if your browser operates on a device with built-in GPS) and report it to web page. This is happening only if you give the site access to see your location. If not, the site should go to your IP address, which appears to be the IP address of the VPN.