Going online nowadays tends to leave a trail of digital breadcrumbs in your wake. These cookies and logs reveal basic but significant information, like your choice of web browser and current location. Based on ISP connections and mobile cell tower communication, a location can be as vague as ‘the United Kingdom’, or as specific as a particular postcode.
Search engines use geolocation data to provide more accurate results, and retailers sometimes employ it to ensure that customers are immediately able to see their nearest store’s opening hours or address details. However, geolocation tracking also has a less welcome side. Consider the case of live sports coverage. You might support a particular team, whose weekly matches are exclusively broadcast by a local radio station. If you live outside that station’s transmission area, you won’t be able to listen to any commentary for contractual reasons. That remains the case even if you’re willing to pay for the service, or already pay for it through the BBC licence fee.
In such circumstances, geolocation spoofing might be beneficial. In essence, this little-known process disguises an individual user’s location. It’s generally achieved by installing the privacy-oriented Tor browser, or by downloading a virtual private network service. VPNs are designed to transmit encrypted data securely between host and recipient devices, protecting individual user anonymity by cloaking their location or falsely recording it as being elsewhere. Most internet-enabled devices support VPN connections, whereas the Tor browser is best suited to powerful computers which can compensate for its sluggish performance.
These are the main benefits and drawbacks of geolocation spoofing:
With growing concerns over the resale and theft of personal data, being able to remain anonymous is increasingly appealing. Without cloaking your location, companies are able to pinpoint your present position with remarkable accuracy.
2. Content availability.
Geolocation spoofing stops the tiresome (and often unnecessary) geographic restrictions on content, as with videos which one country’s population can view months before any other nation is granted broadcast rights.
Search engines often store previous searches and preemptively suggest them as the first letters of a new search are entered. They also resell this information for targeted advertising, neither of which would be welcomed for certain web histories.
Using geolocation spoofing to access the next series of Homeland before it’s broadcast in the UK breaches international copyright laws. You’re effectively an internet pirate, like millennial peer-to-peer users of Napster, Kazaa, and Morpheus.
Location spoofing blossomed as Pokémon Go rose to popularity, but developers Niantic quickly developed workarounds to prevent GPS data being faked. Reputational damage (or a ban) might result from trying to trick a software provider.
3. Data vulnerability.
Some VPN providers retain basic logs on customer activity, which could potentially be used to identify individuals. The best VPNs won’t do this, so read the small print before signing up to a service to ensure no logs are kept.