Fake GPS is a term heard more and more often but what does it mean?
Years ago I was reading an article on my phone about a new app that could spoof your location. I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded like something from a spy movie. Intrigued, I did some more research and found out that fake GPS is a way to change your location on your phone by faking the signal from another device. What was quite exciting back then is rather normal nowadays.
What is a fake GPS app and how does it work
Fake GPS app (also called mock location app) is a term used to describe a GPS spoofing app. These apps allow users to set a fake location, which can be used to trick others into thinking the user is somewhere they're not. While some fake GPS apps are used for harmless fun, others can be used for more nefarious purposes, such as stalking or fraud.
Spoofing is generally the act of faking your identity and can refer to phone numbers, email addresses or even GPS locations. You can read this article if you want to learn more.
The difference between IP location and GPS location
Maybe you were thinking about changing your country via a VPN app while reading the above. But there is a difference between choosing a country in your VPN app and actively faking your GPS location. The difference is that for bypassing country restrictions (like for Netflix or other streaming services) it usually is sufficient to simply use an IP address that is assigned to the desired country.
That's what VPNs usually do:
Do you want to have access to the streaming library of France?
- You enable your VPN
- You select France as the desired country
- The final IP accessing Netflix will be a French one
- You get treated like a user that is currently in France
But faking your GPS location is very different and usually not needed to get access to country-restricted content, as there is almost no service actually checking your GPS data but only where the IP is from (like explained above).
Faking or mocking your location usually only comes with malicious intent like lying to spouses or fraud.
Theoretically, an app can detect fake GPS. If you would be using a fake GPS location, the detection app could tell. However, the reality is that there is no app that is doing this exclusively - like some fake GPS detection app you could use when someone is sharing a location and you want to check if you are getting mocked.
But the demand for ways to implement mock checks in apps is growing quickly. This is because there is more and more fraud recently (e.g. like collusion in gaming apps). To stop this some companies are offering APIs to integrate checks. One of the best-known examples is incognia. incognia.
Related article: Are Apps Safer Than Websites? All You Need to Know
So, can apps detect fake GPS?
The short answer is that apps can theoretically detect fake GPS, but it depends on the app. Some apps are more sophisticated than others and can detect when a GPS signal is being faked. However, most apps will only use the GPS signal to determine your location, so they're not likely to notice if it's been spoofed.
How does fake GPS detection works?
Detecting fake GPS is usually done by checking if the location is behaving artificially. Usually, there are indicators when a GPS location is not real. This is because the behavior is depending on how well the code being used had been written.
And more often than not such code is not too good.
But even the code for faking the location is really well-written detection is usually possible. Especially as there are major efforts in the field to improve on such capabilities.
Such artificial characteristics can be:
- jumping locations
- unlikely path (e.g. not following roads)
- constant speed (keeping the exact same speed for a long time)
- no or constant deviation (e.g. if mountains are being ignored in terms of altitude)
If you want to get into the nitty gritty I recommend reading this article at hypertrack.com
How to detect if an app is using a fake GPS location
Do you want to check if the location someone is sharing with you is fake?
If you as a user want to check if someone is mocking their location because the app in question is not doing so itself you have two options:
Probably the easiest way is to ask the person you assume is spoofing you to turn off GPS location and change to WiFi location. All while showing you their screen to make sure the change is actually being performed.
If they have been spoofing you the person this switch will have their true location, even if they're using a VPN.
The final way is to manually check the GPS signal. If you see that the GPS signal is weaker than usual, or if it's bouncing around, it's a good indication (but no proof) that it's being spoofed.
The dangers of using fake GPS apps
There are a few dangers associated with using fake GPS apps.
1. Location spoofing can be used to commit fraud:
For example, if you're using a fake GPS app to make it seem like you're in a different city, you could commit fraud by using a local credit card or taking advantage of local promotions.
2. Location spoofing can be used to stalk someone:
If you know someone's location, you can use a fake GPS app to follow them or even spy on them.
3. Location spoofing can be used to spread misinformation:
If you share your fake location with others, they may believe that you're actually in that location. This could lead to them making poor decisions based on inaccurate information.
Ways to protect yourself from fake GPS apps
Unfortunately, there is not much you can do personally to protect you from mocked GPS locations besides being cautious and not trusting everyone.
Your best bet for protection is the effort many app developers are starting to take in order to prevent faking of GPS locations in the first place.
The future of fake GPS apps
The future of fake GPS apps is unclear. On the one hand, they could be used for more and more nefarious purposes as technology advances. On the other hand, more and more apps are starting to use more sophisticated methods to detect fake GPS locations, which could make them less popular. Time will tell what the future holds for fake GPS apps.
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