I have used "Find my Mac" to find our Macbook Pro. It was pretty accurate and was able to place the computer within 10 feet of its actual location. I started thinking about how it actually works, since the MBP doesn't have a GPS. How does "Find my Mac" work?

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    This information isn't enough to be an answer to your question so here it is as a comment: you can also get location information through ISP routing information, but this is not nearly as reliable (because of switches, network setup, and just distance) and not used for Find My Mac.
    – jmlumpkin
    Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 12:33
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    @jmlumpkin I edited your comment as there was some confusion around what the "not worthy of an answer" referred too. I'm certain you meant the information in your comment wasn't enough to stand as an answer unto itself. Just made that clearer.
    – Ian C.
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 17:10

4 Answers 4


It checks what Wifi networks are in range and then looks up their locations in a big database of known Wifi access points -- I think Apple use the Skyhook database.

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    Just to clarify. Apple did use the Skyhook database in the past, but these days they have created their own much larger database by croudsourcing from iPhones that happen to be turned on with their GPS active when they encounter any wifi network (without needing to actually connect to the wifi). All of Apple's GPS-equiped devices will also use wifi triangulation while waiting for the GPS to get a fix, and (because wifi is thousands of times faster) to give the GPS chip an approximate location so it can focus on just the last few metres of the location fix. Commented Mar 24, 2012 at 10:02

Wi-Fi Positioning system (WPS)

The Mac can use Wi-Fi network identification for localization. This is called a Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS). The access points name and signal strength is determined and looked up in a database to identify the location. The more access points are found, the more precise the localization.

Unlike GPS (Global Positioning System) or cell-tower triangulation (together called Assisted-GPS), the Wi-Fi based localization works well inside buildings.

There are different databases which collect wireless access points:

  • See also WiGLE Wifi (wigle.net)
    – Wodin
    Commented Jan 10, 2015 at 16:05
  • Bluetooth Beacons works even inside buildings. Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 14:44

Even without a GPS chip, your location can be determined using your MAC address, SSIDs of WiFi networks in range (both private and public networks), their signal strength, etc. In Apple’s case, this data is submitted to the Skyhook Wireless service, which then returns a set of GPS coordinates (latitude, longitude).

If you’re interested in how geolocation works in other devices and applications, and what data is being sent back and forth exactly, see this answer on Stack Overflow which explains how Firefox does this using Google’s geolocation service (which is what most other apps use).

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    Technically, it doesn't use your MAC address or the access point's SSID, it uses the access point's BSSID - which is the MAC address of the wireless interface. (A router's ethernet interface would have a different MAC address.)
    – jpillora
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 3:57

SIMPLE ANSWER: mac laptops don't have a GPS chip. They can be located through wifi networks.

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    How does this improve or differ from other answers - in this case it is the same but provides less information than another answer
    – mmmmmm
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 10:42

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