When you surf the web, you’re constantly being monitored and categorized. Every step you take is recorded, down to your precise location. Why? It’s pretty simple. Companies who sell products online or provide streaming content love to segment their audiences for marketing purposes. When they do so, you can often find yourself blocked out of movie or TV streams that you’d like to access (in the case of sites like Hulu or Netflix). Or you might not be able to find the best possible deals (as with many flight booking sites). None of this would be possible without a technology called geolocation.
As the name suggests, geolocation enables web users to be identified and located.
So, if you’re accessing a German Netflix server from Brazil, it simply won’t be possible. Thankfully, there are ways around geolocation, so let’s investigate further and offer some workarounds to help you gain access to the content you need.
What is geolocation and how does it work?
Geolocation relies on IP addresses to locate web users. Every computer that is attached to the internet has an IP address, and it contains a lot of relevant information that gives away your identity without too much hassle.
To do so, sites will take your address and compare it to regional IP address registries (or Regional Internet Registries). This is the first step in their quest for your IP geolocation, though. After RIRs, their tools will look further, analyzing things like weather site records, data from ISPs and a range of other easily accessible databases of online activity.
All of this can be cross checked with your IP address, giving an instant read out of data like your Zip Code, state, country, latitude, longitude and time zone.
So starting from a simple IP address geolocation services can very quickly establish where you are. It’s not always 100% accurate, but as far as streaming companies and retailers are concerned, it does the job, and it will usually catch users in its net if they don’t take precautions.
Why would you want to fake your geolocation?
It’s relatively easy to carry out a manual geolocation change, allowing you to fake the location seen by the sites you visit. Why would you do so? Well, there are a number of reasons.
As we stated earlier, many sites filter their content by region or country.
If you pretend to be from certain regions, you might have a broader selection of content to consume.
This applies just as much to sports broadcasters as movie streaming sites, and as digital broadcasting becomes more popular, it’s becoming ever more important.
Many booking sites for things like car rental, hotels and flights also use geolocation to deliver prices and deals. So, for instance, you might use a site to book flights from San Francisco to Jakarta, and find totally different prices if you search from California or Indonesia. By faking your geolocation, you could book cheaper flights on the same route – a neat workaround to beat corporate manipulation.
Then there is privacy. Faking your location is one step required to achieve anonymity online, which can be a matter of life and death in repressive jurisdictions. But even in democracies, surveillance agencies can take an interest in where you are, and what you do. Why let them into your life so easily?
All of these reasons make it desirable to know how to fake your IP geolocation. There are plenty of ways to do so, including separate techniques for different web browsers, so let’s deal with them now to help you find anonymity online.
Faking your geolocation in Google Chrome
If you’re a fan of Google’s browser, there shouldn’t be any problems involved in faking your geolocation.
Firstly, desktop users can simply turn off location tracking via the Chrome browser. You can do this on a site by site basis by choosing not to give up your location via tracking cookies when you visit each site. This may well let you access many blocked sites, although it very rarely works with subscription based streaming sites like Netflix.
If you still encounter issues with sites tracking your location, you have a few other options. Firstly, you could carry out a manual geolocation change every time you fire up the browser. Here’s how it’s done:
- Head to the “Developer Tools” section of Google Chrome by pressing Ctrl + Shift + I.
- Choose the menu button in the bottom left in the pane on the right hand side.
- Choose “Sensors” then the “Custom Location” option.
- Now, find the box underneath “Geolocation” and type in any set of latitude and longitude measurements (apart from your current location!).
- Press the “Reload” button on the web page you wanted to access. Your location should be registered as the fake coordinates entered earlier.
You can make this process slightly less complex by using a change location Chrome extension. If you don’t like the idea of going through all of those steps every time you need to beat geoblockers, using a fake location Chrome extension is probably the right way to go.
You can download a simple change location Chrome extension at this Google web store page.
However, there are two alternatives to this process, and they may be more effective.
- Firstly, you could use a proxy as your fake location Chrome extension. Tools like GeoProxy route your web traffic through servers around the world, making it touch to identify your location.
- The other option is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). We’ll talk about that a bit more at the end, and why it’s probably the best option to choose.
How to fake geolocation in Firefox
If you want to create a fake location, Firefox offers a pretty easy solution as well, so virtually wandering the globe shouldn’t be out of reach.
In the case of Firefox, you can use an extension called Location Guard[/url]. This handy add-on provides a fake IP address to websites and also adds “white noise” into the mix, making it hard for sites to use standard geolocation methods. Here’s how to make sure Location Guard is implemented properly:
- To get the extension, head to the site linked to above and follow the installation instructions provided.
- At this point you may find that your Firefox installation needs updating. This is recommended for a number of reasons, and is essential if you wish to work around geoblockers.
- When that’s taken care of, restart Firefox and Location Guard should have been added to your extensions. You should see an icon resembling a tiny grey balloon with a stripe across it. Click the icon.
- In the menu, go to the “Options” setting. On the left, press the “Fixed Location” tab. Now drag the location pin to your new location.
- On the extension tab, choose the “Used Fixed Location” option. That should now be logged as your IP geolocation – at least for some sites.
As with Chrome, using a fake location Firefox extension is not the best solution on its own. To gain access to sites like Netflix and ensure total anonymity, they need to be combined with VPNs.
Geolocation and VPNs: the ideal match?
VPNs were designed to offer an unparalleled degree of privacy, not to work around Netflix’s geographical filters. However, in the past few years it has emerged that these security tools represent the ideal solution to blocking systems.
The important thing to know here is that VPNs on their own are not totally effective. They need to be combined with the blocking tools we’ve already discussed if they are to defeat tracking cookies and geoblocks.
Why is this? It all comes down to HTML5.
Any sites using HTML5 will be able to detect your location even though a VPN might be running.
But they won’t be able to do so if you employ add-ons or manual geolocation in the ways we’ve explained.
You may need to use these add-ons slightly differently for the best results. For instance, if you are using ExpressVPN with Firefox and install Location Guard, you’ll want to drag the location pin to somewhere as close to your VPN server as possible.
More importantly still, when you’ve installed a VPN, make sure you load it up and login before loading either Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Google Chrome. If you don’t, your geolocation protection will be almost worthless.
However, if you combine VPNs with manual geolocation and add-ons, the results can be spectacular. It turns out that geoblockers aren’t as all-powerful as they may seem. Yes, they are sophisticated (increasingly so), but they are vulnerable to users who can skillfully shield their IP address. And that’s precisely what VPNs allow you to do.
So why miss out on your favorite movies or the best flight deals? With the right tools, faking your geolocation is easily achievable, letting you leap over any digital walls companies put in your way.