When you connect to the internet, your device’s IP address gives away your location to websites, advertisers, hackers, and other prying eyes. This exposes your privacy and allows companies to target ads based on your location.
But what if you could change your digital location on a whim and browse the web anonymously? Well, that’s exactly what a virtual private network (VPN) allows you to do!
VPNs are powerful privacy tools that can alter your IP address and trick sites into thinking you’re somewhere else. Keep reading to learn how checking “where am I?” reveals whether your VPN is working, how changing locations unlocks geo-restricted content, and the risks to be aware of.
How Does a VPN Conceal Your Location?
First, a quick explanation of how VPNs work their magic:
A VPN app creates an encrypted tunnel between your device and a server operated by the VPN provider. This tunnel scrambles all your internet traffic so that your IP address and data are hidden from outside parties.
Your connection gets routed through the VPN server before heading out to the wider internet. So to websites and services, your IP address appears to be that of the VPN server rather than your true address.
It’s like putting your internet traffic through a mask that conceals your digital identity. The website sees the mask’s IP address instead of your real one, hiding your location in the process.
Checking Your VPN IP Address with “Where Am I”
After activating your VPN, it’s easy to check whether your IP address and location are actually being masked.
Simply search “where am I” in your browser, and the results will show your apparent location based on the current IP address.
If it matches the location of the VPN server you’re connected to, then the VPN is successfully obscuring your true location. Your IP now points to the VPN’s server rather than your device.
For example, if you’re physically in London but connected to a VPN in New York, searching “where am I” should show New York, USA, confirming your virtual location switch.
However, browser geolocation isn’t always accurate and can get tricked by VPNs. So don’t rely on it as proof your real location is 100% hidden – third parties may still be able to see through the VPN. But it does provide a quick litmus test that the VPN is working as advertised.
The Power to Change Locations Virtually
One of the most useful aspects of VPNs is being able to change your virtual location on the fly.
By simply connecting to a VPN server in a different city or country, you can make it seem like you’re accessing the internet from that location. Your IP address will point to the server’s geographic address rather than your true location.
This unlocks all sorts of possibilities:
Bypassing Geographic Restrictions
Many streaming sites and online services use geoblocking to restrict content based on location. A VPN lets you bypass these restrictions.
For example, when traveling abroad, you can virtually return home and access your favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu, or BBC iPlayer. Or logically “move” between countries to compare pricing and selection on streaming libraries.
Gamers can also use VPNs to access games not available in their region or find opponents on less crowded servers worldwide.
Avoiding Throttling and Censorship
VPNs come in handy where internet access is restricted or sites are blocked by governments. By switching your location with a VPN, you can avoid:
- Throttled speeds on video sites in Australia and other countries.
- Censorship of social media and news in China and the Middle East.
- State-level bans on messaging apps like WhatsApp or Skype.
Connecting to a VPN server in a country with internet freedom is an easy workaround to access all your favorite sites and services abroad.
Enhancing Travel Experiences
When you travel overseas, using a local VPN server provides a better experience than dealing with geo-restrictions from home.
You can pull up Google Maps for navigation in that country, check local train times, make Yelp restaurant reservations, and access other helpful travel tools that may be blocked abroad.
A VPN also helps keep your data more secure on public WiFi networks in airports, cafes, and hotels when traveling.
circumventing sports blackouts
Sports leagues often black out local live broadcasts of games in order to encourage ticket sales. Using a VPN to change locations lets cord-cutters bypass these pesky blackouts and stream blocked games.
Checking Your New Virtual Locale
After connecting to a VPN server in a different country, double check that your virtual location has updated by searching “where am I” again.
You should see the IP address now pinned to the city or country you selected rather than your true location. This confirms you’re browsing under the guise of that new locale.
Keep in mind that not every VPN server location will necessarily work to unblock geo-restricted sites and content due to VPN detection systems.
But a quality VPN will have a large and diverse network of servers worldwide to provide reliable access anywhere. Test different locations to find the best fit.
VPNs Aren’t a Privacy Panacea
While extremely useful for obscuring your digital footprint, even the best VPNs have limitations that prevent complete anonymity. Here are some factors to keep in mind:
VPN Detection is Improving
Streaming platforms are getting better at recognizing and blocking VPNs to enforce geographic rights. A VPN that worked one day may be blacklisted the next.
Using less obvious server locations can help avoid detection. Also look for VPNs offering dedicated IP addresses and obfuscation tools to fly under the radar.
Other Tracking Methods Remain
Your IP address isn’t the only way companies can profile and track you online. Browser fingerprints, cookies, and online trackers also monitor your activity across sites.
A VPN cannot protect against these other forms of tracking. Use privacy-focused browsers like Brave or Firefox along with the VPN for more complete protection.
Speed Slowdowns Occur
Routing your connection through a distant VPN server often leads to some speed loss compared to your direct ISP connection.
The further the server, the more latency added. Make sure to choose a VPN that minimizes speed impacts like ExpressVPN or NordVPN.
Free VPNs Are Risky
While tempting, free VPNs often log user activity, sell data to advertisers, and contain malware. To avoid becoming the product, opt for paid services operated by trusted companies.
Browse Smarter with a VPN
While not perfect, using a VPN is one of the best ways to take control over your digital location and enhance your privacy.
Checking “where am I” after connecting confirms your IP address is masked and your traffic is routing through the VPN server.
From there, you can change locations on the fly to bypass geographic restrictions, avoid censorship, enhance travel experiences, access sporting events, and more.
But keep the limitations in mind too. Even with a VPN, always practice good online security habits like using unique passwords, avoiding public WiFi for sensitive browsing, and installing antivirus software.
Think of your VPN as just one useful tool in your privacy toolbox. Used properly alongside other secure browsing habits, it can dramatically increase your control over your sensitive data.
The next time you ask yourself “where am I” online, hopefully your VPN will allow you to answer: wherever I want to be! But if you have any other questions about how VPNs work, feel free to ask me in the comments. Stay secure out there!