Wi-Fi Location Tracking: How Does It Work?


Location tracking through the Global Positioning System (GPS) is very common. It’s how an Uber driver finds you, why you can order food straight to your doorstep, or how you find your way around with Google Maps. However, GPS is just one way your location can be tracked.

Wi-Fi location tracking, also known as Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS), takes the concept of Global Positioning System further. Instead of relying on satellites, it uses Wi-Fi routers and smart devices (Wi-Fi access points) to pinpoint a phone, tablet, or laptop more accurately than a GPS does. If that sounds both fascinating and scary, that’s because it is.

In this article, we’ll talk about Wi-Fi location tracking and how it’s used on a daily basis — and how you can avoid being the target of location data monitoring.

So, how does Wi-Fi location-based tracking work? And how does this technology affect your privacy? Let’s find out.

What is Wi-Fi Location Tracking?

Wi-Fi location tracking is a geolocation system that uses the entire Wi-Fi infrastructure (phones, tablets, laptops, and routers) as Wi-Fi access points to determine a device’s location.

Even when you’re not connected to a router, your device is still sending and receiving data in order to discover nearby routers, so the devices are still in constant communication as long as you have Wi-Fi enabled.

Wi-Fi location tracking is a good system for geolocation whenever the Global Positioning System can’t get the job done. For example, GPS can’t always locate your device when you’re indoors, as the signal coming from GPS satellites is weak or easily blocked.

In these instances, Wi-Fi location tracking can take the reins and pinpoint your accurate location.

Wi-Fi tracking was developed to capitalize on the wide use of Wi-Fi devices in urban areas. It can also be used by companies to manage the transport of valuable supplies or to monitor products in a warehouse.

Now, all of that sounds great, but you might be wondering where else big tech giants might be using your data. Our next sections dive deeper into this.

Can Businesses and Third-Parties Track Me via Wi-Fi?

Businesses and other third parties can track you via a Wi-Fi network if you let them.

For example, Google uses the WPS system, along with GPS tracking, to give you an accurate location whenever you open Google Maps. They can do this legally because you agreed to it when signing up for a Google account. It’s all in their Terms of Service. Google even stores that location history to use for their ads system.

And Google isn’t the only tech giant guilty of this. Apple does the same thing with its iPhones. Wi-Fi tracking can also be used by smaller companies to gather data about unaware users, as Bluetrace did back in 2015.

You can always opt out of geolocation tracking and go back to your phone’s built-in Global Positioning System. However, Wi-Fi location tracking is used in places other than your preferred navigation app–so it’s not easy to avoid. For example, this tracking often plays a role in the storage and organizational processes of big companies, as discussed below.