Section: New Software and Platforms

Location Guard

Participants : Konstantinos Chatzikokolakis [correspondant] , Marco Stronati.


The purpose of Location Guard is to implement obfuscation techniques for achieving location privacy, in a an easy and intuitive way that makes them available to the general public. Various modern applications, running either on smartphones or on the web, allow third parties to obtain the user's location. A smartphone application can obtain this information from the operating system using a system call, while web application obtain it from the browser using a JavaScript call.

Although both mobile operating systems and browsers require the user's permission to disclose location information, the user faces an “all-or-nothing” choice: either disclose his exact location and give up his privacy, or stop using the application. This forces many users to disclose their location, although ideally they would like to enjoy some privacy.

The API level of a browser or an operating system is an ideal place for integrating a location obfuscation technique, in a way that is easy to understand for the average user, and readily available to all applications. When an application asks for the user's location, the browser or operating system can ask the user's permission, but including the option to provide an obfuscated location instead of the real one! Different levels of obfuscation can be also offered, so that the user can chose to provide more accurate location to applications that really need it, and more noisy location to those that don't.

Location Guard was created as a prototype for Google Chrome at the end for 2013. In 2014, Location Guard matured from a prototype to a high quality software, supporting both desktop and mobile browsers:

  • Google Chrome / Chromium

  • Mozilla Firefox and Firefox for Android

  • Opera

After only a short period online, the extension has more than 8500 daily users, and it was presented in an article by the popular technology news site Ghacks. Our experience so far shows that end users do care about location privacy, and geo-indistinguishability is a practical approach for providing it.

In the future we plan to make Location Guard more widely available on smartphones, supporting more mobile browsers as well as providing direct integration into the operating system, primarily on Android.