The Strange Case of Google Geo-location



On April 22, Haifa University started to complain that Google had decided that they are located in Iceland.


We realize temperatures in Israel often exceed 40c and some of us were quite thrilled that Google decided we are in Iceland, but search results tailored for people in Reykjavík are not really appropriate for people living in Israel.  A bit of searching into the North American Network Operators’ Group (NANOG) mail archive showed numerous people complaining since March 2021 about similar issues.  One network had their users in Hong Kong complaining that the Google landing page detected them as being located in Vietnam whereas users in Singapore were complaining that the Google landing page detected them as being in Hong Kong.  The issue seems to have started sometime in early March 2021.

The country code for Israel is “IL” whereas the country code for Iceland is “IS” so most probably someone in the Google geo-location team had a typo and assigned parts of Israel academia to country code IS.

Many network admins in the NANOG group that encountered similar issues were told by Google to update their geo-location via a special file one can place in the Google ISP Portal.  The problem is that many network admins don’t have access to this specialized Google site, but fortunately, IUCC had previous access to this site.

So on April 30, Google processed our geo-location file and we expected Haifa and Ramat Gan to return to Israel.  Unfortunately, that did not appear to be the case:

And Israeli users continued  to learn Icelandic:

After reaching out to a few friends in Google, one decided to assist in getting this internal Google bug resolved.  On May 4 an internal Google fix was published in regards to the geo-location of Israeli academia.  But this fix would only be visible in all Google public-facing systems (e.g. search will stop redirecting to within a few days.

Finally on May 12 it was determined that all Israeli academic users were back in Israel and out of Iceland.