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One of the VPN features is the ability to virtually change your location this way allowing to bypass geoblocking filters, but sometimes a VPN does not hide your real location when accessing Google, Netflix or other websites when it supposed to. Here’s why you can still be discovered and how to solve it.
Why VPN is not hiding your location
There are a few reasons why VPN is not hiding your location from the websites. This might happen because the websites can still detect where you are by using tracking cookies, Wi-Fi signals, geolocation API and browser fingerprinting. Also, your VPN might reveal your real location if it has an IP address or DNS leaks.
IP address and DNS leaks
First things first, if your provider leaks your IP address when connected to a VPN server – the solution is simple – it’s time to change your provider. Leaking this information not only reveals your real location, but it’s also a serious privacy issue that needs to be tackled asap. Nowadays, VPN providers that lead the market do not have any IP leaks and have implemented the measures and advanced features to cover all scenarios to keep your privacy protected.
You can check if your VPN leaks your real IP and DNS records by visiting ipleak.net – if you see your real IPv4, IPv6 or DNS address that means your real identity is exposed even when on VPN.
Another leak that could happen, which a VPN can not handle because it is related to the browser itself is called WebRTC leak. You could disable WebRTC communication installing an extension called WebRTC Control on both Chrome and Firefox. Sone VPN services such as NordVPN also offer a lightweight VPN browser extension that also tackles WebRTC leaks.
Cut off tracking cookies
Cookies is the technology that is widely used for tracking by many websites that it is hard to avoid. Small files that are stored locally on your computer could hold up information about where you connecting from, your identity, and even which websites you visited earlier.
Cookie files are transmitted over VPN therefore even with your IP changed they still reveal the information about where you are. If you want to hide your real location with VPN it is best to delete cookies or start a fresh session in the browser’s private incognito window.
Private Incognito Windows in a browser can be opened by keyboard commands:
- Chrome: CTRL/Command + Shift + N
- Firefox: CTRL/Command + Shift + P
- Safari: Command + Shift + N
Disabling geolocation API
Some websites ask permission to use your geolocation API that can be accessed via your browser. This feature quite precisely determines your location and is a preferred detection method over the IP address. In many cases when a VPN is not hiding your location on the phone that means that your GPS feature is used instead.
To hide this information from the browsers and websites you should disable this geolocation API:
- Disable on Chrome: Menu > Settings > Privacy and Security > Site Settings > Location > Turn on “Ask Before Accessing”
- Disable on Firefox: Menu > Options > Privacy And Security > Permisions > Location > Add checkmark on “Block new requests” or manage permissions
- Disable on Safari: Preferences > Privacy > Website Tracking > checkmark “Prevent cross-site tracking” and “Ask websites not to track me”
How does Google know my location when using a VPN
Google uses sophisticated algorithms that correlate your Wi-Fi name, browser settings and past searches therefore Google knows your location when using a VPN. It has collected a lot of data that is used to determine the location even with a changed IP address, a geolocation API turned off and cookies deleted.
Using Google Account exposes you
Just to mention, even with a VPN if you are searching for something while logged in with a Google account your location still might be known. If you want to hide your location as well as search history try using a Google alternative called DuckDuckGo which is a search engine that does not track or log your search queries. Otherwise, when you are logged in with your Google Account all your searches and where you are based are tied directly to you.
Google’s algorithm that you can not hide from
Google’s smart, that’s for sure. Its algorithm can reveal your true location even without tracking cookies or geolocation API. It takes into account your Wi-Fi signals, search queries and browser settings (browser fingerprinting). Even using a VPN it can determine your location based on a combination of these settings.
Your browser settings play a role – browser fingerprinting is the method that can help (at least partially) identify a user based on the combination of the OS and the Browser used. These settings include browser language and location, screen size, addons installed and many other parameters. By generating a unique identifier based on these settings Google could correlate the browser used and tell where you are.
It also takes into account the Wi-Fi used which transmits a unique signal from your router together with other Wi-Fi SSIDs that are stored on your device too. This information is sent to Google by your browser and knowing that other Wi-Fi names are located in that area might determine that your Wi-Fi is in that area too.
Historical searches also help identify your location when on a VPN. For example, if you search for some particular cafe, event or business address in a particular location, Google understands that you might be based somewhere in that area.
The combination of all these factors helps Google know your location even on a VPN. Needless to say, it also has a way of determining VPN users and IP addresses too. So to sum up, how google can know your real location:
- Using Google Account
- The browser and OS settings
- Historical Searches
- Transmitted Wi-Fi SSIDs
- Knowing VPN IP addresses
Even with a VPN, your location might be not be hidden due to IP address or DNS leaks as well as the use of a browser geolocation API and cookies. It’s even harder to hide it from Google due to its sophisticated algorithms. The best way to mask your location from the websites is to delete the cookies and start a session in an incognito window. Also, you should disable a WebRTC leak on your browser which you could do with a VPN browser extension.
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