Virtual private networks are a pretty bulletproof technology, all things considered. Unfortunately, Google is a pretty bulletproof spying apparatus-I mean, tech-pioneering company, as well…
So, how does Google know your location even if you’re using a VPN? Well, how does it not if you continue to be the same naive Netizen you always were, just with the luxury of a small app that now tells every website you’re from Sri Lanka? Let’s elaborate on that.
How does Google know your location? Using VPN is just the beginning…
Not even a triple VPN running on a Raspberry Pi that’s tapped into your neighbor’s electricity pole will keep you hidden from Google if you log into a legitimate Google account…
All joking aside (seriously, don’t steal electricity), you’d think this would be common sense, but to paraphrase the great George Carlin: consider how stupid the average person is – and then realize half of them are even stupider than that.
Seriously, you don’t have to dig deep to find stories of people canceling their Internet service after getting a VPN subscription, or forgetting to turn on their VPN before logging into the social media account they’ve created for their globally notorious hacker persona.
So, yes, your IP is just one way wherein Google, an ISP, or another party whose website or service you’re accessing can identify you and/or pinpoint your location. In fact, it’s not even the most accurate one, especially not if you’re using a mobile VPN. In that case, you should probably first dig into your browser’s site permissions and find out how many places on the Internet have access to your GPS because of… reasons.
Alright, accidentally granting GPS privileges to a website may not be that easy to accomplish (never forget, however), but unknowingly accepting malicious cookies is a whole other thing.
Cookie tracking has gotten so bad that Google now has to explicitly state Chrome’s Incognito Mode isn’t truly incognito while trying to defend against yet another multi-billion-dollar privacy class action – not that it doesn’t deserve though, mind you. Though of course, anyone with even the vaguest of ideas of how “incognito” browsing operates could have told you the same after Apple’s Safari first pioneered this feature 15 years ago. This is a relic of a bygone era in which the biggest threat to your online privacy was your mom whose computer you were allowed to use on the weekends, not a publicly traded behemoth who reached a trillion dollar valuation by becoming a professional threat to everyone and their mother’s privacy.
That’s why activating a VPN is only the first step on today’s road toward true online anonymity, assuming such a thing is even practically achievable in this day and age. Step number 1.1 would be installing a plugin such as NoScript, uMatrix, or the aptly named Kill Evil, all of which are at the very least available for Firefox and Chrome. Speaking of which…
Time to dump Chrome
Seriously, it’s bad for you. Chrome is like that abusive ex that used to be fit and crazy, so you kind of tolerated the latter due to the former because you didn’t know any better after growing up with a literal dumpster fire, i.e. Internet Explorer.
These days, however, she’s eating more ram meat – horrible pun intended – than you can afford while also being at the centre of unprecedentedly terrorizing antitrust crimes, baffling violations of workers’ rights, and frighteningly massive user data leaks. Like every long-overdue change, dumping Chrome is difficult but necessary even if you aren’t so concerned about your still-legally-protected digital privacy to pay for a VPN subscription.
Like most things Google, Chrome exists solely for the purpose of growing the company’s monstrous advertising empire through “free” solutions concealed as products. Of course, as it’s been pointed out on countless occasions, if you’re not paying for them, it’s you who is the product. So get rid of this free doorway to your personal electronics that conveniently has you discreetly logged into your Google account in the background.
If anything, using a VPN with Chrome provides Google with even more information about you since the company’s algorithms can easily associate IP location fluctuations with VPN usage, allowing its advertisers to target you based on that area of interest.
At the end of the day, not even that is enough to guarantee Google won’t be able to deduce who you are online, assuming you’re still zealously using Search. Sure, accessing the Internet over a third-party browser using a VPN-rerouted connection will prevent it from immediately identifying you but the field of big data has gotten so advanced that de-anonymization is no longer a scary possibility but an unavoidable reality.
Let’s go back to our Sri Lankan example
For example, if there’s a Google Search user with a Sri Lankan IP that has the same interests, browsing patterns, and devices as the Dohn Joe from Paterson, New Jersey, then that’s likely the very same guy after getting a VPN subscription. And that’s just what this random author could tell you off the bat, imagine what billions of lines of code permeating AI-infused targeting algorithms powered by countless neural networks could deduce. They will at the very least sort that Sri Lankan VPN guy into the naive demographic so that Google’s many advertisers can soon start pitching them their own brand of snake oil.
Hey, naivety is a trait and traits have to be exploited for quarterly reported profits!
The bottom line is that if you’re getting a VPN to protect yourself from Google’s ever-growing spying apparatus, you need to stop willingly handing over data to that very same machinery regardless of who your IP says you are. People may be stupid it’s not people who are tracking you with creepily accurate results all across the Internet, starting with the Google ecosystem.
Actively boycotting Google is certainly not an easy task in the third decade of the 21st century, but it is definitely achievable. Step one: acknowledge DuckDuckGo. There, you now have an Internet search engine with way less privacy concerns and way more ducks. If that’s not a win, what is?
“How does Google know my location while using a VPN?” was written by Dominik Bosnjak, a long-time VPN-user-turned-advocate who spends more time scrutinizing VPN Providers on a daily basis than he’d like to admit. When he isn’t writing VPN Guides and covering general Tech News, he’s probably spending time with his dog, video games, or both. Fun fact: the Shih Tzu in question is the only remaining creature in Dominik’s life who hasn’t told him they’re sick of him talking about Best VPN practices and government-sponsored erosion of digital privacy which made using the Internet less convenient over the years. He occasionally dabbles in video editing, Wall Street memes, and demonstrating a remarkable lack of guitar-playing ability.
If you want more tidbit-sized rants about any of those things, you can find him on Twitter @dddominikk.