If you’ve browsed through our website you may have stumbled on our Location SDK page. Upon scrolling through all the related information, you got to the “Highly Reliable Tracking” section. There you read about mock location prevention being one of our location SDK features.
Or you did none of that, I don’t know. But, if you did read that part about mock location prevention, there’s a chance you knew what we were talking about. There’s also a chance you had absolutely no idea and were just nodding your head along like you understood everything.
This blog is here so you can actually understand everything to do with mock location prevention. Starting from what it means and ending with what lies ahead for it in the future.
What is mock location?
Let’s knock out the definitions first.
Mock location refers to a feature in mobile devices that allows users to set a location that is different from their actual physical location.
Mock location prevention is the process of preventing and detecting the use of fake or simulated GPS coordinates in a mobile device. Prevention is there to ensure that location-based apps and services receive accurate and reliable location data from the device's GPS receiver, rather than spoofed or fabricated location data. We’ll get to how that works later on.
A popular mock location app is VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a technology that creates a secure and encrypted connection between two or more devices over the internet. This allows users to access resources on a network as if they were directly connected to it.
It’s a handy tool for protecting sensitive data such as passwords, financial information, or confidential business information. It is often used by businesses to protect their online privacy, bypass geo-restrictions, and access content that may be blocked in their region. VPNs can also be used to connect remote workers to a company's network, so that they can access company resources securely from anywhere in the world.
Individuals use mock location apps like VPN to access location-restricted content or services because streaming platforms like Netflix have regionally distinct catalogs, or to protect their privacy by hiding their actual location from apps that track them. The latter has become commonplace due to people valuing their privacy and personal data.
In short, mock location can be used to prevent accurate location tracking. For example, some users may use mock locations to spoof their location to avoid being tracked by their employer, parents, or other individuals.
The dichotomy of the internet, on the one corner we have the oversharing aunts on Facebook, and opposing to them are the Jason Bourne: no identities who want as much privacy as possible.
However, the use of mock location can also have negative implications for mobile location tracking. By providing false location data, mock location can mislead apps that rely on accurate location information. That includes maps, ride-hailing services, and location-based advertisements. This can result in inaccurate directions or recommendations, which can be frustrating for users.
False location data can result in instances such as this:
You may be asking, why don’t users just turn off their mock location when they’re ordering food online, or for when they’re hailing a cab?
I can list you a number of reasons why people don’t do that, but ultimately you should ask yourself; would I turn off mock location every time I use an app that relies on location data? If the answer is yes, congrats or whatever. If the answer is no, I thought so. It comes down to the developer to make sure it isn’t a problem for the performance of their own app.
Why is mock location a concern for mobile location tracking?
The impact on mock location on different industries and use cases can get pretty serious.
For delivery services, mock location could be used by dishonest employees who'll manipulate the delivery records and claim that they have delivered packages when they haven’t. The result of this is lost or stolen packages as well as being damaging to the reputation of the delivery company.
For ride-hailing, mock location also presents a few major issues. Drivers could use mock location to appear as if they are closer to a customer than they actually are, leading to longer wait times and a potential loss in revenue. With mock location on, users may be hailing a driver from the false location, which I don’t think I need to elaborate how inconvenient that might be.
In emergency response situations, mock location poses a particular problem. If someone in distress provides a false location because of a mock location app, emergency responders will have trouble locating them in time to provide assistance. This has serious consequences for public safety and can put lives at risk.
This applies to use-cases such as family tracking apps. Family tracking apps rely on real-time location data so that users can keep track of loved ones and ensure their safety. With many family tracking apps having a panic button feature, it’s important that mock location doesn’t mess with the location history and the real-time tracking should the occasion arise.
Challenges and limitations of preventing mock location
We’ve established the concerns and scenarios where mock location can cause trouble, so what are the challenges and limitations of preventing mock location? The main challenge in mock location prevention has to do with the nature of GPS technology and the wide range of tools and techniques available for spoofing location data. Here are some of those challenges and limitations:
- False positives: Nope, not the covid-19 rapid test stuff. Some mock location prevention measures may incorrectly flag legitimate location data as fake. This leads to false positives and often causing confusion for users.
- App store policies: These policies can limit the ability of developers to prevent mock location, as some policies may prohibit certain types of location spoofing prevention measures.
- Innovations in techniques: Techniques in spoof location data are constantly evolving. You’ve got GPS signal jamming for one. That involves broadcasting a fake GPS signal to a receiver, causing it to believe that it is in a different location than it actually is. Users can install GPS spoofing software to achieve broadcasting that false data. You’ve also got Wi-Fi triangulation. WiFi signals can be used to estimate the location of a device, but this can be spoofed by creating a fake Wi-Fi hotspot, or by using a Wi-Fi signal repeater to broadcast a fake signal. Same applies for cell tower triangulation, this can be spoofed by broadcasting a fake signal from a cell tower or by using a cell signal repeater to amplify a fake signal.
- Privacy concerns: Some methods of preventing mock location may involve collecting additional personal data or tracking user behavior across other apps, raising concerns about privacy and data security. Alarm bells would be ringing at the GDPR police department
- User acceptance: Users just might not want to accept prevention methods because they see it as an invasion of their privacy or a limitation on their freedom. You have to find a way to convince those Jason Bourne types accurate location data is needed whilst subverting their concerns and expectations.
Examples of successful mock location prevention implementations
No matter the challenges and limitations though, there are several successful mock location prevention implementations across a variety of industries, including a few we mentioned before.
Ride-hailing and delivery service companies like Uber (that’s two birds with one stone) use a combination of location verification techniques to prevent drivers from using mock location apps to prevent all that fake location stuff. They use algorithms to detect patterns of suspicious activity, device verification, and regular re-verification of driver location. Sounds annoying right, the need to re-verify your location on a frequent basis? I blame the dishonest employees for that one.
Emergency response services have also found ways to prevent issues related to the use of mock location apps, through a combination of location verification techniques and verification of device integrity.
Family tracking apps follow suit with the same approach but additionally use real-time monitoring to detect any irregular activity, such as changes in location or inconsistent location data. Monitoring can alert users or administrators to potential issues caused by mock location. User authentication now also ensures that only authorized users are able to access and use the family tracking app. This helps prevent unauthorized users from spoofing the location data.
Financial institutions use advanced fraud detection systems to prevent the use of mock location apps in mobile banking applications. They monitor location inconsistencies and use device fingerprinting to identify unauthorized devices.
Location-based games such as Pokemon Go (yes, people still play this, you have to catch them all and that can take time) use a variety of techniques to prevent the use of mock location apps. That includes server-side location verification, time-stamped location data, and device integrity checks.
If you ever want to summarize successful mock location prevention implementation, you’re likely to achieve this by just remembering: location and device integrity verification. That seems to take center stage in all of this.
We understand how important mock location prevention is for companies and their apps to run effectively. Our knowledge of the subject comes from experience with helping clients in the very matter.
Our location SDK was built with mock location prevention in mind. You’ll be able to bypass the effects of mock location apps, GPS spoofing apps, or GPX files, helping you prevent location fraud. If you’re curious to know more, feel free to contact us.
Future of mock location prevention in mobile location tracking
The future of mock location prevention hinges on three factors; technical solutions, user education and app store policies. All three will influence that entire landscape.
As the techniques used to spoof location data become more sophisticated, location verification will need to keep up and not let spoofing get the upper hand. Machine learning algorithms might come in handy to detect patterns of activity. New technologies to improve location accuracy will have an impact too, but that’s a broad look at things without concrete knowhow on what those new technologies might be.
Tied to that will be device integrity checks continuing to play their role in mock location prevention. We might see an involvement of stringent checks to ensure a device isn’t rooted or jailbroken, or the development of new technologies to prevent the installation and use of mock location apps. However, I’m sure the installation prevention methods are likely to be countered with opposing voices; it infringes on user privacy and their freedom of use.
App store policies might become more strict in the future to prevent the distribution of mock location apps, with rigorous review processes for app submissions, or the implementation of stricter penalties for developers who violate their store policies. It sounds like a bureaucratic nightmare, or dream if you like all that policy and paperwork stuff. If you do, you might be a Vogon, and I’ll assume you’re terrible at poetry too (that’s a niche Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference for you). Again, I’m sure it will be met with some resistance with arguments on personal data and privacy being prevalent.
User education will continue to be an important part of mock location prevention for the foreseeable future. That includes providing users with info on how to detect and prevent the use of mock location apps, or educating them on the importance of accurate location data for location-based services. It’s best to explain the latter by telling them the consequences this could have on their late night pizza order. At least, that’s what would work for me.
Overall, the future of mock location prevention in mobile location tracking will require ongoing research and development to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and tools used in location spoofing. Attached to that is ongoing education on the importance of accurate location data.
Well that’s your 2023 guide on mock location prevention. What it all boils down to is that mock location can have a serious effect on the performance of apps that rely on location to fulfill their service. The challenges and limitations of mock location range from dishonest employees to constantly evolving spoofing techniques.
Despite its growing popularity in use though, successful prevention methods have been made so that company apps can continue to operate as normal. Ensuring that continues will require staying up to date with latest developments in location spoofing.
In the end, most users have mock location on their phones for personal reasons, such as privacy. The advantage of almost all prevention methods is that they allow users to continue using features such as VPN without interrupting the performance of their other apps. Part of user education is increasing the awareness of such a fact.
Want to know what we do at Roam?
Thank you for reading! If you’re interested in developing a mobile app with mock location prevention and want to power it with reliable and accurate location tracking, check out our location SDK. It offers customizable tracking modes, always-on tracking, offline location tracking, and mock location prevention. With low battery drain, your app can offer top-notch location tracking without draining battery life. Check out our location SDK page to find out more.