Geolocation is a common feature of smartphones – it allows location-aware applications like Google Maps to determine where you are located. Ever wondered how it can be so eerily accurate?
You may have assumed that it only uses GPS or cell tower data to estimate the location of your device. However, it can also use publicly broadcast WiFi data from wireless access points (e.g. wireless routers).
This ability to use data from wireless routers (that most of us have at home) enables geolocation services to work effectively on standard PCs and laptops too – even though they typically do not have GPS or mobile data capability.
Geolocation In Browsers – IE, Chrome and Firefox all support geolocation but, by default, it is an opt-in feature. Therefore, if a website wants to find and use your location, the browser alerts you with a prompt to confirm whether you wish to allow or deny the sharing of your location with the site:
If you choose to Deny sharing, no location data is sent to the website. If you choose to Allow sharing of your location, your IP address and information about nearby WiFi networks will be passed to a Location Service (usually Google’s own) – that Service returns your estimated geolocation (e.g. latitude and longitude) which your browser then passes to the requesting website.
The fact that geolocation is an opt-in feature should alleviate any privacy concerns for most users – if you don’t want to share your location with a website you can just choose to deny access when the confirmation prompt appears. However, if you find that the prompt appears frequently and becomes annoying (or you are particularly concerned about privacy) you may wish to completely disable geolocation in your browser.
[Note: Regardless of whether or not you disable geolocation services in your web browser, it is likely that the publicly broadcast data from your wireless router is already stored in their databases. See our article here if you wish to opt out your router from Google's service too.]
Disable in Chrome
Click the Menu (3 bar) icon in the top right of Chrome and select ‘Settings’ then click ‘Show advanced settings…’ at the bottom of the page.
In the Privacy section, click the ‘Content settings…’ button. Scroll down to the Location settings and select ‘Do not allow any site to track my physical location’ as shown below:
Press the ‘Done’ button to save the change – geolocation is now disabled and you will not see any more prompts when you visit a location-aware website.
Disable in Firefox
Type about:config into the address bar and press Enter then click the “I’ll be careful I Promise…” warning button (if it appears).
A long list of preferences used in Firefox is displayed – the quickest way to find the right one is to type part of the preference name into the Search box at the top of the config page – type geo to narrow down the list to only display preferences containing that text.
Double click the geo.enabled entry to change its Value to ‘false’ as shown below:
Close the about:config tab – geolocation is now disabled and you will not see any more prompts when you visit a location-aware website.
Disable in IE9 or IE10
Click the Tools (gear) icon in the top right of IE and select Internet Options.
Click the Privacy tab and, in the Location section, tick the box for ‘Never allow websites to request your physical location’ as shown below:
Press the ‘OK’ button to save the change – geolocation is now disabled and you will not see any more prompts when you visit a location-aware website.
How To Test If Geolocation Is Disabled
An easy way to make sure that geolocation is disabled is to just visit the test webpage here.
If the page displays a message that ‘Your browser does not support geolocation’ (Firefox) or ‘The page could not get your location’ (Chrome/IE) as shown below then you know that you have permanently disabled geolocation in your browser: