Google Maps is a fantastic app for finding your way around a strange city (or a familiar one) – you can check street view for a firsthand look at how things really look, or take the bird’s-eye view from a mile up and see the big picture. One thing that not many Maps users know is that it’s possible to spoof your location on Maps, to persuade Google that you’re somewhere other than where you really are. The potential for mischief and pranking is largely untapped. You can prank your friends or mislead your coworkers by faking your location in Google Maps, making it appear as though you are somewhere other than where you really are. You may have a more serious reason to need to conceal your location. In this article, I will show you how and why.,
Can you fake your location on Google Maps?
I was once told a story about a friend of mine whose boyfriend secretly installed GPS tracking on her phone so he always knew where she was. Like a scene from You, the boyfriend wanted to know where she was, who she was with and all that good stuff. What he didn’t know is that she found out what he did and reversed it on him. By using some simple tools, she fooled the tracking app into thinking she was somewhere she was not.
Putting a nosy (and stalkerish) boyfriend in his place might be one reason to spoof your location in Google Maps. There are more leisure-oriented reasons as well – for example, playing geographically-based augmented reality games such as Pokemon Go or the more recent Harry Potter Wizards Unite.
How Google Maps finds your location
Like many location-based apps, Google Maps uses a combination of tools to find out where you are. Maps can access your phone’s GPS systems, it can access your WiFi BSSID (and correlate that information with its database of what WiFi BSSIDs are where), and it can utilize a technique known as cell tower geolocation to get surprisingly accurate information about your location. Even if your WiFi and GPS features are turned off, Maps can triangulate the signal strength of surrounding cell towers to make a very educated guess as to your location. It doesn’t have commercial GPS’ razor precision, but it can get you located within a block or so. Finally, if it is connected to the Internet your phone has an IP address, and those are generally geographically based so if worst comes to worst, Google Maps should at least know what general part of the country you are in. None of this activity is intended specifically to spy on you (or so they say), but rather makes Google Maps more accurate and useful for you in daily life.
Civilian GPS is accurate to 3 meters or so and works by analyzing the signal strength from multiple satellites which have known orbits and schedules. By comparing these signals (which include time stamp information) the GPS hardware and software is able to get an extremely accurate idea of where you are hanging your hat. Less accurately, Maps can see what the local wireless networks are named, and it can compare that with its huge database of existing SSIDs, to give the app at least a general idea of where it is. And finally, Google Maps can simply triangulate its location from the available cellular towers (the location of which it also knows) for a reasonably accurate location.
Can you fake your location on your phone?
Now that you know how Google Maps (and other location-based services) can locate your phone, you also now know that it isn’t enough just to turn off GPS or WiFi to stay hidden. For Google Maps to be completely blind to your location, you would have to turn your phone off. (Or just turn off location services.) It is far more effective to simply trick Google Maps into thinking you are somewhere else, using a combination of apps to override your phone’s GPS system and manipulating its IP address on the network.
Even though Google Maps uses multiple sources to locate you, if GPS is available it will default to that. If it can locate you using GPS, it won’t then look for BSSID or interrogate your cell tower. If you then open a browser and add an IP address to the GPS, Google Maps (like other location-based apps) will accept those two data points to satisfy itself it knows where you are. We can use that to our advantage.
Fake Google Maps location – GPS spoofing
The first half of spoofing our location in Google Maps is to run an app that tells the smartphone not to look at its internal GPS sensors for GPS data, but instead to just trust the software when it tells the phone where it is. There are actually a wide range of GPS spoofing apps on the Google Play Store. Some contain better features than others and some work better than others overall. In general, the higher rated the app, the better it works. Democracy works, in general, for Android apps.
If Developer Options are not already enabled on your phone, you will need to activate them first. Fortunately this is simple.
- Select Settings->About Phone.
- Select About Phone.
- Tap the Build Number seven times.
- You should see a message that says something like ‘You are now a developer!’
Now when you trigger your app, it will ask for permission to change your location and you can click Yes for it to work.
To access a different IP address registered in a different location, we can use a VPN. Many good quality providers offer endpoint servers in different locations across the world. Find a provider with an endpoint server close to where you want to appear to be and go with that. This will take a little research, but the top tier VPN providers have hundreds of endpoint servers in hundreds of cities across the world. It shouldn’t be difficult to find one near you. For Windows 10, we have a collection of the best VPNs to use.
Install the VPN if you don’t already have one and sign on to an endpoint server close to where you want Google Maps to think you are. Now go back to your fake GPS app and set it to the same city or location close to that city. As IP addresses are assigned by region and not strictly by city, the two data points will correlate enough for Google Maps to be confident it knows where you are. A little bit of work is required to fake your location in Google Maps but if you really need to do it, now you know.
Interested in learning more about how Google Maps has changed the world? Check out this e-book about how Google Maps has changed the way we see the world.
Have you used apps to fake your location in Google Maps? Pranked anyone or have an amusing story about faking your location? Tell us about it below if you do!