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I just downloaded an application, that asked me permission to figure my location. I said "OK, let's see what happens".

Next thing I know, my lat/long with 4 decimal places and a pin on a Google map precisely show where I live, That's a bit too accurate for comfort. In 10.6.8, I didn't think it would know my location so well.

  1. How did it do that? Did it look up my IP address?
  2. How do I disable that? I definitely don't want any app to know my location (and send it back to god knows who), with or without my consent.
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1 Answer

How did it do that? Did it look up my IP address?

It uses a database of WiFi networks your Mac can see and their approximate locations to triangulate your position. This Apple article says:

Your approximate location is determined using information from local Wi-Fi networks, and is collected by Location Services in a manner that doesn’t personally identify you.

The location of WiFi networks is determined primarily using the GeoIP database and but well-established WiFi networks can report more accurate information to the system. For example, in my neighbourhood where only private citizen WiFi networks are visible to my Apple devices, my location is very approximate. It knows the town, but that's it.

How do I disable that? I definitely don't want any app to know my location (and send it back to god knows who), with or without my consent.

In 10.6.8, the only way to get location services is via Safari. The OS didn't have control over location services, it was just a browser feature. To turn off location services for websites in Safari:

  1. In Safari select Safari > Preferences… > Privacy (toolbar).
  2. Select the "Deny without prompting" radio button in the 'Limit website access to location services' section of that tab.

If you're running a new OS X you can also turn off location services for apps by doing:

  1. Apple () menu > System Preferences… > Security & Privacy > Privacy (tab).
  2. Select Location Services on the left.
  3. Uncheck the 'Enable location services' option to turn it off for all apps or uncheck just the apps you don't want to have access to location services.
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While the rest of this answer is great, it is incorrect regarding the source of the location information. What it's doing is wi-fi geolocation. It scans all the wi-fi access points around it and sends their MAC addresses over to Apple, where they've built up a database of wi-fi access points and where they are (most likely collecting data from people's iPhones.) Apple can then figure out where you are based on which base stations you can see. Here's some more information: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi-Fi_positioning_system –  cablesm Dec 28 '12 at 17:45
    
OK. I did not use Safari, but downloaded the app from Firefox. The app installer is the one that asked about figuring it out my location. And my Safari privacy setting is to "Deny without prompting". So, this little app is doing something else. –  Frank Dec 28 '12 at 17:49
    
@cablesm updated. In the end, unless you can see some very well known public WiFi network, it's all down to GeoIP DB lookups. –  Ian C. Dec 28 '12 at 19:07
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@Frank I use f.lux -- great little program and can really save your eyes. It uses location services to determine sun up/down in your current area so it changes the display colours as the sun sets or rises. –  Ian C. Dec 28 '12 at 19:15
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Google not only collects MAC addresses of access points, but until 2 years ago collected the entire data stream! [/troll] Actually on-topic: if this conversation continues, could I convince you guys to take it to chat? –  Jason Salaz Dec 28 '12 at 21:21
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