How can I protect myself from geo-location sneakware?

Kathleen August 1, 2011
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Hi, I have recently found out two disturbing things.

1. Google spies on your location and skews your search results. There is no off switch, according to Google.

2. Companies are actively suborning browsers’ privacy options by planting secret code directly on the hard drive.

How can users block access to their IP and geo-location? If this capability doesn’t yet exist, who can I ask to create an app that can do this? Who can I write to, to report this pernicious marketing behavior?

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  1. Anonymous
    August 9, 2011 at 1:08 am

    To be totally honest, I don't know of a single ISP that supplies your exact address to any site that asks for it. The most defined I've ever seen is down to a city level which really in my opinion is just enough data to supply relative search info but keep your identity safe. I definitely agree with @muo_jamesbruce:disqus and to be honest, the only time I've ever used a VPN or Proxy is to visit blocked sites at a public hotspot.

    • James Bruce
      November 9, 2011 at 11:26 am

      They do supply your exact IP address though, and with a bit of clever data manipulation and records from other places around the web, that can all be extrapolated to get far more than just your home address. 

      I really doubt anyone would of course, and I completely agree with you, but it is *possible* and some people just enjoy being absolutely *paranoid*.  

  2. James Bruce
    August 2, 2011 at 6:57 am

    I would like to add though, you probably need to calm down.

    Google does skew results depending on your location, and there's a damn good reason they do. If i'm searching for post office, I want a post office that next to me, not in New York on the other side of the world. Thankfully search engines ARE now smart enough to skew results to your location. Is there any particular reason you don't want this happening? Or are you just paranoid that the agencies will be checking your google searches and find out where you live, then come and get you for all those naughty things you're doing?Also, yes, companies do leave files in your browser to identify you. Disabling scripts and removing cookies etc is a great way to stop this - but you're also going to break 90% of the internet, and then you'll posting questions about why *this* site doesn't work for you, or why you can't comment anywhere, or why you can't click on that anymore! Again, do you have a valid reason to break most internet sites? If you shop at Amazon and leave something in your shopping basket, would you rather it not be there when you go back again to purchase it? Would you rather advertisements showed you utterly random things insteasd of things related to you? "Oh, it's so creepy - I did an amazon search for a book last week, and now I get ads for books everywhere!!!!" - ZOMG, someone stop the madness! Personally, I'm glad the internet evolved into something more useful than a static library of reference material, customized to my own personal tastes - thank you very much. 

    Also, as Jeffery mentioned the app you speak off - something to cloak your IP - does indeed exist, and they cost a monthly fee (minimal - $5/month?) to use. It will route all your internet traffic through a certain location. I use one myself to download movies with - but I can tell you now the internet experience while using it is ridiculous - everythign is automatically foreign! Google in dutch, anyone? Definintely not something you want to be using on a regular basis unless you really are doing lots of illegal things, and / or living in a disgusting censored empire like China or anywhere under strict islamic rule. 

    • Aibek
      August 2, 2011 at 7:18 am

      For downloading in particular I recommend checking out PeerBlock. http://www.makeuseof.com/pages/best-windows-software#download

      It will basically ensure that you download only from 'safe'servers and not those that may spy on you.

      • Jeffery Fabish
        August 2, 2011 at 7:32 am

        How could I have forgotten Peerblock!? Good idea.

        In case you're running Linux there is MoBloquer which is based off of PeerGuardian (as is Peerblock). MoBloquer has reached end-of-life but the lists continue to be updated, which is what is important. I'm debating porting this tool to Windows and getting involved in the development, as it seems just when we need this software, it conveniently seizes active development.

        MoBloquer: http://sourceforge.net/projects/mobloquer/

    • Jeffery Fabish
      August 2, 2011 at 7:27 am

      I've bounced around from VPN to VPN and found that to be true, however HideMyAss VPN is unique in that it allows you to chose a server in the city of your choice (it also runs on Linux!!). I find HMA to be particularly expensive but it's better than wasting a perfectly good day lying to the police & explaining to my ISP (:  Only kidding.

      • Aibek
        August 2, 2011 at 7:29 am

        I second HideMyAss as well. i spent a considerable amount of time testing VPN solutions as well as reading reviews. HideMyAss VPN is definitely one of the best ones.

      • James Bruce
        August 2, 2011 at 10:07 am

        Yep, I use that too. Very good for choosing where you want the IP to come from, the app they supply is the best I've ever used. 

      • Bran5446lv
        August 22, 2011 at 10:35 pm

        Excatly! Great answers I totally learnd something and im forwardn ths blog to all my "friends"

  3. Jeffery Fabish
    August 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    They do have an off switch, Stop using Google. It's a free economy (the Internets). Luckily for you, I'm an advocate of privacy.

    To start, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to spoof your IP Address and thereby spoofing your location. There are many VPN's available, most good ones will cost a little bit. I highly recommend HideMyAss VPN. If a VPN is out of the question, use a Proxy (preferably HTTPS compliant). A proxy will only work (well) in your browser and they are often very slow. HideMyAss also has a proxy.
    http://hidemyass.com/

    Then I would install NoScript & Ghostery. NoScript will prevent unwanted scripts from executing and Ghostery will tell you what a website is attempting to collect about you and if you want to allow them to. 

    Firefox (and some other browsers) have implemented a technology for you to "ask" websites not to track you, called do-not-track. This is fallible sense the website STILL CAN track you, so you may want to ditch your casual web browser and go to an anonymous one. The "Tor Project" (notable VPN company) released a web browser kit.

    https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html.en

    Alternatively you may want to use xB browser.

    https://xerobank.com/download/index.html

    Often times, if you block the IP Address of a company who performs geoip tracking, the entire website won't load because the website has forced this company to be a dependency. I recommend using NoScript to block the script instead. 

    The "Secret Code" you speak of is probably an LSO object or cookie. An LSO is usually created on flash sites, such as YouTube. You can use an addon in Firefox known as "Better Privacy" to clean these LSO's up for you (as they are not cleared by your browser). You can clear up cookies by simply clearing the cache in your browser. You can also tell your browser not to accept cookies from websites that you haven't visited (therefor blocking the website from outsourcing to the companies scripts). I also highly suggest installing CCleaner to cleanup what some addons may miss. 

    If you must use Google, I would use CustomizeGoogle. It allows you to prevent Google Click-Tracking. Alternatively you may use "Google Tracking Be-Gone" I think it's called, which requires the Greesemonkey addon.

    Links: 
    http://www.customizegoogle.com/
    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/47300
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/748

    In a summary, install a VPN and get Firefox. Proceed to install the plugins "NoScript", "Ghostery", "Better Privacy" and "Customize Google". Reply with your questions if you have any. I have quite a few more suggestions as to how to remain anonymous on the internet, if you're interested.

    • James Bruce
      August 2, 2011 at 6:45 am

      You need an award for that answer Jeffery. 

      • Bran5446lv
        August 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

        Professor jeffery, thanks!¡!

    • Aibek
      August 2, 2011 at 7:01 am

      awesome reply, thanks Jeffery!

    • Smegma
      November 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      You're just plain wrong about using a VPN to prevent geolocation.  I am using BTGuard because I'm testing a geolocation app and I need the ability to spoof my ip so I can test the app.  Unfortunately my geolocation always knows where I am an it's always terrifyingly right even when my apparent IP is in some other country.

      • Jeff Fabish
        November 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm

        BTGuard is a P2P VPN and will only spoof your IP Address on the BitTorrent protocol. You need to use a VPN that works on HTTP and HTTPS.

      • James Bruce
        November 9, 2011 at 11:24 am

        Yeh, like Jeffery said - "BITTORRENT GUARD" only protects you on BITTORRENT network. It doesn't affect your regular browsing location or IP at all. 

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