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Why (and How) to Check Your Geolocation Accuracy

If you haven't checked your geolocation accuracy lately, you should - here's why.

Have you even seen a tech genius in a TV show use a computer to locate someone? Or used an app like Apple Maps or Google Maps to get directions somewhere? Or felt like ads somehow know which stores or restaurants you’re near, even when you’re somewhere new? The technology in use in all of these scenarios is geolocation, and it supports a variety of tools we use every day. But geolocation is only helpful if it’s accurate. If you haven’t checked your geolocation accuracy recently, it’s time to do it. This article explainns why you should and how to do it.

What is Geolocation?

Geolocation is a technological tool that identifies the location of a particular device. If you’ve ever used a GPS (or the GPS function on your smartphone), geolocation is how it knew where you were to guide you to where you’re going. If you use tools like our IP lookup, geolocation is how the tool can tell you where a particular IP address is located.

One important thing to note, though, is that geolocation can’t identify where you are – just your devices. That includes laptops and smartphones, but also devices like smartwatches and AirTags. Since most of us take at least one device with us most places, its location is usually the same as ours. But if you went to the grocery store and left all your devices at home, their geolocation histories would have no idea you went to the store at all.

Why Geolocation Accuracy Matters

It’s easy to assume that geolocation accuracy doesn’t actually matter all that much. After all, who cares if your phone knows if you went to the grocery store instead of the clothing store down the road? In fact, some people think that keeping your geolocation inaccurate will protect their privacy. But there are some very good reasons that you should make sure your geolocation is accurate.

If you plan to get directions on your device, you definitely need to check your geolocation accuracy. It doesn’t matter what GPS app you prefer – they all use geolocation to give you directions to where you want to go. If your geolocation isn’t accurate, it may give you incorrect directions that get you even more lost.

Augmented reality games, like Pokemon Go, rely on geolocation to play. So do location tagging and checking in on social media, and many weather apps. If your geolocation isn’t accurate, these apps and fuctions won’t work the way they’re supposed to.

But the most important reason to check your geolocation accuracy is in case of an emergency. If the worst happens, emergency services or law enforcement could use your geolocation to find you and intervene in the situation. But if your geolocation isn’t accurate, they might not be able to find you. Depending on the emergency, this could result in delayed help or even put your life in danger.

Why Geolocation Accuracy Matters for Businesses

If you’re a business owner, geolocation accuracy is important for your business, too – just in different ways. You want customers to be able to find your business. Make sure your business’s location is correct on every map service. That includes the well-known ones like Google Maps and Apple Maps, as well as the less-popular ones like MapQuest. Most of these services allow you to both update your business’s address and adjust its location pin on the map. You should also update review sites like Yelp, social media sites, and your business’s website so that your address is accurate anywhere customers might look for it.

How to Check Your Geolocation Accuracy

Since geolocation is based on the device, if you want to make sure your geolocation is always accurate, you will need to check each device individually.

On a Mac computer, open the Maps app, then click the Current Location button (a small arrow pointing up and to the right). It will then show a dot at your location. If it tells you it can’t use your current location, you will need to turn on Location Services first. Click the Apple menu and the click System Settings. In the sidebar, click Privacy & Security (you may need to scroll down to see it). Click Location Services, then click the slider next to Maps.

On a Windows computer, open the Maps program. Click the Show My Location button on the right (a dot with a circle around it). If you get a notice that it can’t find you, you may need to turn on Location access. Click the start button, then open Settings. Click “Privacy,” then select “Location” from the menu on the left. Make sure Location is turned on.

On an iPhone or iPad, open the Maps app and tap the Current Location button. It will then show a dot at your location.

On an Android phone or tablet, you can check if your geolocation is accurate by opening the Maps app. See if the blue dot is at the right spot. If you don’t see a blue dot, tap “Your location” in the bottom right.

How to Update your Geolocation Accuracy

If your geolocation is incorrect, you probably want to update it. Again, since geolocation tracks each device separately, you will need to update each device that has it wrong. The good news is that updating your geolocation accuracy isn’t difficult. In fact, restarting your device will often fix it! But if that doesn’t solve the issue, try these steps.

On a Mac computer, check if there are any updates that need to be installed. If there are, install them. Then turn off Location Services (Apple menu → System Settings → Privacy & Security → Location Services) and restart your device. Once your device has restarted, connect it to a wifi network, then turn Location Services back on.

On a Windows computer, first check if there are any updates that need to be installed. If there are, install them. Then turn off Location access (Start button → Settings → Privacy → Location) by clicking the toggle button on Windows 11 or clicking “Change” and setting to “Off” on Windows 10. Scroll down until you find Location History and click “Clear.” Then restart your device. Once your device has restarted, connect it to a wifi network. Then turn Location access back on.

On an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings and tap Privacy & Security, then Location Services. Find Maps in the list and tap on it. Tap the slider next to Precise Location to turn it on.

On an Android phone or tablet, you can improve your geolocation accuracy by turning on High Accuracy Mode. Open the Settings app, tap “Location,” select “Mode,” and set it to High Accuracy. Depending on what version of Android you have, you may not see a Mode option. If you don’t see Mode, look instead for Google Location Accuracy and turn it on.

Geolocation and Privacy Concerns

Geolocation is an important tool for many things. It enables apps to give us directions to new places, and it can even help emergency services locate us in case of the worst. But for privacy-focused people, geolocation can sound concerning. Even if it does have benefits, anyone with the right access could use your geolocation to track where you are at any time.

If all this talk of geolocation has you concerned about your privacy, a VPN is a great choice. If you had a VPN turned on while checking your geolocation accuracy, you may have noticed that the methods earlier in this article came up with no results or very incorrect ones. That’s because a good VPN can obscure both your IP address and your location. If you have a VPN running on your device, apps, tools, and services that need location won’t work very well, but it will also prevent anyone trying to track you from doing so.

You can turn it off if you really need geolocation accuracy. But when you don’t need your device to know exactly where it (and you) are, you can turn your VPN on. For many people, this solution strikes the best balance between being able to use geolocation and protecting their location from prying eyes. (We even have a list of best VPNs for privacy if you want help choosing a VPN.) An accurate geolocation is important – but so is your privacy.

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