Google Location: When You Want to Be Nowhere in Particular

Recently Google announced that it was making the location setting more prominent on its Web page. If you look on the left side of a search results page, you’ll see that Google is showing you where you are and giving you the option to change that setting. Google, as you probably remember, is now customizing its search results based on your geographic location.

Here’s the thing, though: you can’t say that you’re nowhere.

In other words, you can’t say that you want just the generic United States results (when you’re in the US). You have to specify that you’re somewhere in particular. My attempts to say I was on the Moon, at Squaresville, or in a pineapple under the sea were to no avail.

Which was annoying to me since many Google searches that I do have nothing to do with location. And being burdened with a location, I wonder what I’m missing, or how badly my search results are being skewed in a way I don’t want.

I did find a way to get around this, however. Metasearch engine Zuula, about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago, offers a Google search. A Zuula spokesman tells me that the results from its Google search are geared to come from “the United States.” He went on to say, “So, regardless where a user is — in the U.S. or elsewhere — the results they see are generic results relevant for all the U.S.”

He further noted: “The answer to your question would be somewhat if we were talking about the other major web search providers, Yahoo and Bing. There, the results are customized according to the country where the user is located. A Zuula user in France, for example, will see Yahoo and Bing results very close to what they would see at the Yahoo and Bing French websites. However, this would not be the case for the Google web search tab at Zuula, which still would return generic ‘U.S.’ results.”

I apologize to my international readers for the US-centricity of this article, but US readers, there is an option for searching Google which doesn’t involve slanting your search to a specific area.

Update: Chris schools me — see the comment below. The magic location to specify no location is “US.” I knew you guys were brilliant. Thanks Chris!

About Tara Calishain

Covering the world of search engines, databases, and other online information collections since 1996.

Posted on October 27, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I did notice that when I entered “US” in the location box it gave me a generic “United States”.

  2. How you can spoof Google maps:
    Turn off Google’s location tracking in your browser.
    Go to Google Maps – Search for USA. When the map pulls up, save it to your maps. Next search for “United States” in Google maps. Save it to your maps, and close Google maps.
    Turn off WIFI and GPS if you have a smartphone with Google on it.
    Get Brightkite and Foursquare for your phone. Also get an auto check-in app for foursquare. You can search for locations in Brightkite (and a few other check-in apps) and go directly to that location if memory serves me correctly. If you search these apps for Unites States, you will usually be taken to a cornfield in the middle of Kansas (direct center of the USA.
    I went and checked into Manhatten Family Court in NYC. A few minutes later, I checked into a Correctional Facility in Tulsa. During this time, I was in the Dallas area. I checked into the Dallas Downtown Heliport, eve though I was 25 miles West of there. When I pulled up the heliport map on my phone app, it showe I was still at the Dallas Heliport, but the app showed the Dallas Heliport in the middle of Fort Worth, about 30 miles away, while I was in a 3rd city.
    I use multiple check-in or location based apps at the same time. I think this comfuses your phone’s location function.
    Some phone apps give you the option to set your phones “radius”, or how far away from you that they will search for tweets, business, etc.
    Some apps will let you “go to” a friends location to see what is there.

    Play around with this stuff, it’s fun. Better do it before they tighten it up, and and start losing our privacy.

    During my experimentation, it became evident to me, that many of these app developers use Google maps for locations.

    Google still thinks I am checked out in the United States, and several of the phone apps (with WIFI and GPS off) allowed be to virtually travel anywhere, even though I was actually on my sofa at home.

    You can als0 spoof your location on the Twitter map-focused website called streamd.in [That is streamd (dot) in] On the upper left of the webpage, under “What’s Happening” you can change the city to NYC, let’s say, hit enter and it will take you there. Once in NYC, you will see NYC tweeters and their location on the map. Here you can add people to Twitter who are from a specific area or city.

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