Did you know that Google Chrome keeps track of where your computer is located? It does, for several different reasons. Some websites deliver different content depending on where the person accessing them is physically located in the world. Many business sites collect location data from visitors for marketing purposes, or to see whether a particular ad campaign is bringing in readers from a specific part of the world. Regardless of the reasons for the demand for the information, Google Chrome (among other browsers) does track the geolocation of the computer, tablet, or smartphone it is running on.
There is a similarly wide range of reasons why you might want to block Chrome from reporting location, or better yet, force it to give out an incorrect location. You might want to convince a website that you are located in a region where it has a license to show you certain TV or movie content, for example. You may want the “local news” tab of Google News to give you stories from a different city than the one in which you happen to live. Maybe you just want to print out a bunch of navigation directions from Google Maps for your upcoming trip to Paris, and don’t want to have to reset the location continually.
Whatever your reason for wanting to set a different location in Chrome, there are many ways you can do so. In this article I will show you how you can persuade Chrome that you’re actually in Paris, France, or maybe just Paris, Texas. First, though, I will show you how Chrome can figure out where you are in the first place.
How Does Chrome Know Where You Are?
There are several different methods that Chrome (or any other program on your computer or smartphone) can determine your location. It’s important to bear in mind that Chrome runs on smartphones and tablets as well as on desktop computers, so this information applies to all three basic platforms on which Chrome will run.
All modern smartphones and most tablets include hardware that can interface with the network of global positioning system (GPS) satellites that orbit our planet. There are more than 30 satellites in orbit (as of March 2016), with another 34 advanced satellites scheduled for eventual launch and deployment into the network. Each of these satellites contains a powerful radio transmitter and a clock and continually transmits the current time at the satellite to the planet below. A GPS receiver, which could be part of a smartphone, tablet, or even a laptop or desktop PC, receives the signals from several GPS satellites, whichever satellites are currently orbiting above the Earth reasonably close to the receiver. The receiver then calculates the relative strengths and timestamps from all the satellites and estimates where it must be on the planet’s surface to be getting the signals that it is getting.
The system is capable of accuracy as close as one foot, but more realistically, a consumer-level GPS like the one in a smartphone will provide a location within about ten or twenty feet of the “real” location. Chrome, like every other program on a smartphone or tablet, has access to this GPS location information and will use it to plot your location.
Every wireless network access point or router broadcasts something called a Basic Service Set Identifier (BSSID), an identifying token that indicates that router or access point’s identity within the network. The BSSID does not, in and of itself, contain location information. Your router does not know where it is in the physical world; it only knows it’s own IP address. So how can anyone know the location of a BSSID? Well, because BSSID information is public, every time someone with smartphone access the router, an entry is made in a Google database correlating that smartphone’s GPS location at the time of the connection, and the BSSID the smartphone talked to.
Over time, a massive database of BSSID/geolocation correlations has been built up, and while it is not perfect, if Chrome is connected to a router, it can use that router’s BSSID to look up its own physical location very quickly and easily using the HTML5 Geolocation API.
If all else fails, Google Chrome has access to your computer’s IP address. While the IP address is exact when it comes to your location within the architecture of the Internet, that architecture is only sketchily connected to geographical areas. However, Internet Service Providers do create a rough correlation between IP address ranges and particular regions of the country. In other words, an automated query to your ISP requesting your computer’s physical location will generally return a result which, if it isn’t perfect, is considerably better than nothing. Usually, in the United States, a location generated from an IP address will be accurate as to what state you are in and will probably be accurate as to what city.
You can test this yourself by visiting the IP Location Finder and typing in your IP address. Depending on what kind of computer or device you are using, this page will also show you the location information it has for you based on your WiFi connection or GPS data.
How Can You Spoof These Location Methods?
Now that we know how Chrome knows where you are, how can we trick it into thinking that you’re somewhere else?
Shut Off Access to GPS
One way is to shut off your GPS functions on your smartphone or tablet so that Chrome won’t have access to the information. If you go to a website in Chrome and you see a little alert in your browser that says “xxxx.com wants to know your location” or words to that effect, that’s the HTML 5 Geolocation API being used. Fortunately, you have to opt in, so you have some control over whether or not the website can see your location.
Clicking “Block” on this popup every time can be annoying. To turn off location sharing in Google Chrome, and to permanently block this popup, follow these steps:
- Click the menu icon to the right of the toolbar. It’s a row of three vertical dots.
- From the drop-down, click “Settings.”
- Scroll down to “Content Settings” and click it.
- Click “Location.”
- Toggle the “Ask before accessing” button.
Now, websites will not be able to access your location. If you’re on mobile, however, Chrome will have access to your IP address by default. You have no choice over your IP address being used to locate you. For GPS data, though, you can either refuse app access to leave GPS turned off altogether.
If you’re not sure whether or not your browser knowing your location is important, click here to see just how well your device can track your location. Allow the app to access location data, and your position should appear on the map in the center of the screen.
Fake Your Location Inside the Browser
Another option to disallow websites from seeing your location is to fake it. Faking your location in Chrome will not allow you to access Hulu from outside the U.S., but it will enable you to see regional news or static web content you would not usually be able to see. If you want to access geo-locked websites, you will need to use the VPN method explained below.
You can fake your location in the browser itself, or you can use a VPN. Faking in Chrome is temporary, and you will have to do this each time you open a new browser session. But it gets the job done. To fake your location in Google Chrome desktop.
- Go to this website and copy a random set of coordinates. Drag the red icon anywhere, and the Lat and Long will appear in the box above it.
- Open Google Chrome on your device.
- Press Alt + Shift + I to access Developer Tools.
- Select the three-dot menu icon in the top right of the pane.
- Scroll to “More Tools” and select “Sensors.”
- Change Geolocation to “Custom location…”
- Add the Lat and Long coordinates you copied earlier into the boxes underneath Geolocation.
- Reload the web page.
You can test the settings by opening up Google Maps. Rather than showing your home or last known location, it should zero in on the position marked by those coordinates you set. You cannot fix this permanently and will have to perform the above steps for every new browser session you open. Otherwise, it works like a charm.
Faking your location in Google Chrome is simple and will work for most things you might want to do online. You can use the same principle if you use Firefox, Opera, or another major browser too. The menu syntax might differ a little, but you should be able to figure it out.
Fake Your Location With a Chrome Extension
You can manually change your location all day long, but wouldn’t it be easier just to have a browser extension to do it for you? Enter Location Guard, a free Chrome extension that, surprise, lets you add “noise” to your location within Chrome to protect your privacy. Location Guard enables you to get the benefit of “good enough” geolocation (for example, getting your local news and the weather for the right part of your state) by adding a certain amount of “noise” to the real location. This offset means that your real location cannot be detected, only your general region.
Location Guard lets you set any of three privacy levels, with higher levels increasing the “slop” in your location. You can configure the settings on a per-website basis so that your dating app can get very accurate information while your newsreader gets the least precise information. You can also set a fixed fictional location.
Fake Your Location With a VPN
By far, the best way to fake your location is to use a VPN. Not only is it a permanent solution, but it also has the added benefit of encrypting all web traffic and preventing government and ISP surveillance. There are many good VPN services, but our favorite continues to be ExpressVPN, one of the best and most premium VPNs on the market today. Not only will ExpressVPN allow you to change and fake your location within Chrome, but with a solid support team, applications and device support for nearly every platform under the sun, and the best Netflix region-breaking we’ve seen from any VPN to date, it’s the obvious choice for anyone looking to invest in a great VPN.
VPNs won’t allow you to specify your exact location the way GPS spoofing apps will allow for, but they can make it easy to change your general city or country location by assigning you a new IP address. For those trying to fool their friends into thinking they’re right next to them, this may not be the best tool, but for those who are trying to sidestep regional blocks for content and other tricks requiring new locations within your browser, using a VPN is perfect.
There are several reasons to recommend ExpressVPN for this, as we covered above. While they aren’t the only VPN on the market, their server count—over 3000 servers across 160 locations—in addition to apps for every major platform under the sun make it an obvious pick for your VPN choice. Being able to automatically translate your IP address to any of those 160 locations is quick and straightforward, and once you’re connected, there’s virtually no service that won’t be able to tell you aren’t there. That includes Netflix, a platform notorious for working hard to make sure those spoofing their IP locations are unable to access out-of-region content. In our tests with ExpressVPN, which you can read more about here, we’ve had no issues connecting to Netflix from regions like Canada and the United Kingdom to stream movies we couldn’t usually view.
Like most VPNs, ExpressVPN supports a whole host of different platforms for protecting your browsing data. We don’t live in a one-device world in 2019, and ExpressVPN makes sure you’re covered no matter what device you’re using. Dedicated apps exist for iOS and Android on the App Store and Play Store, respectively, allowing you to activate your VPN on your phone whenever you need to secure your internet. The usual desktop apps are here, with support for Windows, Mac, and Linux, making it an option no matter what platform you’re using for your daily computing.
Support for devices doesn’t end there. After covering your computer and your smartphone with protection while browsing, you can also install ExpressVPN on several other platforms, perhaps the most we’ve seen to date. Express offers apps for Amazon’s Fire Stick and Fire Tablet, Google’s Chrome OS, extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, and even tutorials for getting a VPN up and running on your PlayStation, Xbox, Apple TV, or Nintendo Switch. Being able to use a VPN on a smart streaming device isn’t something that every VPN supports, so it’s great to see the app offering users support on these platforms. Likewise, you can follow the instructions on Nord’s website to get the VPN up and running on your router to protect all traffic coming in and out of your house. You can support up to five devices at once around your home, which is about average for this type of VPN.
Perhaps the best reason to use ExpressVPN for this, however, is their support team. ExpressVPN offers 24/7 support for their customers available through both live chat and email, which means you should be able to solve your internet problems no matter the time of day. If you’re ready to take the plunge with ExpressVPN, you can check out their prices right here. With a 30-day money-back guarantee, there’s no reason not to check out one of the best VPNs for faking your location online today.
Know of any other ways to fake your location in Google Chrome? Tell us about them below if you do!
We have several other resources to show you how to spoof a location on your phone, tablet, or PC.
Here’s our guide on how to spoof your location for Snapchat.
And of course, we’ll show you how to spoof your location for YouTube TV.
We can teach you to spoof your location on Google Maps.
Need to have your smartphone think you’re somewhere else? Here’s how to spoof your location on Android.
If you’re trying to get out under the watchful eye of the family, you’ll want to take a look at our guide to how to spoof your location in Find Your Friends.
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