In computing, geolocation software is software that is capable of deducing the geolocation of a device connected to the Internet. The identification of a device's IP address can be used to determine the country, city, or post/ZIP code, determining an object's geographical location. Other methods include examination of a MAC address, image metadata, or credit card information.
An IP address is assigned to each device (e.g., computer, printer) participating in a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. The protocol specifies that each IP packet must have a header which contains, among other things, the IP address of the sender of the packet.
There are a number of free and paid subscription geolocation databases, ranging from country level to state or city—including ZIP/post code level—each with varying claims of accuracy (generally higher at the country level). These databases typically contain IP address data which may be used in firewalls, ad servers, routing, mail systems, web sites, and other automated systems where geolocation may be useful. An alternative to hosting and querying a database is to obtain the country code for a given IP address through a DNSBL-style lookup from a remote server.
Some commercial databases have augmented geolocation software with demographic data to enable demographic-type targeting using IP address data.
The primary source for IP address data is the regional Internet registries which allocate and distribute IP addresses amongst organizations located in their respective service regions:
Secondary sources include:
Accuracy is improved by:
A farmstead northeast of Potwin, Kansas became the default site of 600 million IP addresses (due to their lack of fine granularity) when the Massachusetts-based digital mapping company MaxMind changed the putative geographic center of the contiguous United States from 39.8333333,-98.585522 to 38.0000,-97.0000.
A distinction can be made between co-operative and oppositional geolocation. In some cases, it is in the interest of users to be accurately located, for example, so that they can be offered information relevant to their location. In other cases, users prefer to not disclose their location for privacy or other reasons.
Technical measures for ensuring anonymity, such as proxy servers, can be used to circumvent restrictions imposed by geolocation software. Some sites detect the use of proxies and anonymizers, and may either block service or provide non-localized content in response.
In the UK, the application of the Data Protection Act means that geolocation will only yield the physical address of the ISP. Any further tracking (e.g. for criminal tracing) has to be carried out by getting the ISP to check their logs.
Geolocation technology has been under development only since 1999, and the first patents were granted in 2004. The technology is already widely used in multiple industries, including e-retail, banking, media, telecommunications, education, travel, hospitality, entertainment, health care, online gaming and law enforcement, for preventing online fraud, complying with regulations, managing digital rights and serving targeted marketing content and pricing. Additionally, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed that geolocation software might be leveraged to support 9-1-1 location determination.
Banks, software vendors and other online enterprises in the USA and elsewhere became subject to strict "Know your customer" laws imposed by the USA PATRIOT Act, the Bank Secrecy Act, the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control and other regulatory entities in the US and Europe from the early twenty-first century. These laws are intended to prevent money laundering, trafficking with terrorist organizations, and trading with banned nations. When it is possible to identify the true location of online visitors, geolocation can protect banks from participating in the transfer of funds for illicit purposes. More and more prosecuting bodies are bringing cases involving cyber-crimes such as cyber-stalking and identity theft. Prosecutors often have the capability of determining the IP address data necessary to link a suspect to a particular crime.
Online retailers and payment processors use geolocation to detect possible credit card fraud by comparing the user's location to the billing address on the account or the shipping address provided. A mismatch – an order placed from the US on an account number from Tokyo, for example – is a strong indicator of potential fraud. IP address geolocation can be also used in fraud detection to match billing address postal code or area code. Banks can prevent "phishing" attacks, money laundering and other security breaches by determining the user's location as part of the authentication process. Whois databases can also help verify IP addresses and registrants.
Government, law enforcement and corporate security teams use geolocation as an investigatory tool, tracking the Internet routes of online attackers to find the perpetrators and prevent future attacks from the same location.
Since geolocation software can get the information of user location, companies using geomarketing may provide web content or products that are famous or useful in that location. Advertisements and content on a website may be tailored to provide the information that a certain user wants.
Internet movie vendors, online broadcasters who serve live streaming video of sporting events, or certain TV and music video sites that are licensed to broadcast their videos of episodes/music videos are permitted to serve viewers only in their licensed territories. By geolocating viewers, they can be certain of obeying licensing regulations. Online gambling websites must also know where their customers violate gambling laws, or risk doing so.
Jim Ramo, chief executive of movie distributor Movielink, said studios were aware of the shortcomings going in and have grown more confident now that the system has been shown to work.
A location-based game is a type of pervasive game for smartphones or other mobile devices in which the gameplay evolves and progresses via a player's real-world location which is typically reported via GPS. Examples of such games include Ingress and Pokémon Go.
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