How Does Geolocation Work? Geolocation and IP Addresses
How can someone determine your general area or city in an instant with only your IP address? This amazing feat is accomplished by geolocation software. Like something from a sci-fi movie, geolocation services can zero in on your country, state, city, and finally your postal code.
What is geolocation?
It is the process of pinpointing a person’s geographical location based on the digital data provided by their internet-connected device. Even though there are many technologies out there that can determine a person’s location, an IP address is the most reliable method. With an IP address, the following information can be collected:
- Province or state
- Longitude and latitude
- Time zone
- ZIP code
- Issuing Authority
Almost anyone, whether businesses or individuals can obtain paid geolocation services using a subscription service. Although there are free geolocation service providers, the paid services offer more accurate results.
Paid geolocation services are granted access to numerous databases that provide the information necessary to pinpoint a person’s location online via their IP address. One primary resource for IP address information is the Regional Internet Registries. These are official and large organizations that are responsible for distributing and managing IP addresses in specific areas around the world. The RIR for North America is the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN).
This is only a starting point. Geolocation services are capable of zeroing in on your location by relying on other sources to find your IP address. The method is similar to a gold digger mining for gold and other precious metals. Geolocation service will excavate data by tunneling through the information until they meet their objective; your location. A geolocation service may probe data sources where your IP address appeared before. For example, if you searched for your city’s weather conditions online, you likely entered your ZIP code. The weather conditions you received were connected to your device’s IP address because the request was made in real-time.
What is geolocation used for?
This service can be used for many applications such as advertising, marketing, and even anonymity. For instance, many people who travel outside the United States may rely on a VPN connection just so that they can watch their favorite shows on streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix. The VPN service makes it look like the person is the U.S.
Geolocation and IP Addresses
It’s important to note that IP addresses aren’t designed to describe a geographical location. Geolocation is established on IP address catalogs. Currently, there are more than 4 billion IPv4 addresses being used. This makes it hard to update the ownership status. For instance, an IP address that once belonged to an American company before may today belong to an Indian company. Until all these changes are updated and the IP address ownership is transferred, databases must re-scan the IP address with the responsible party. This process takes up a lot of time and often decreases the efficacy of the country block tool.
IP database vendors have to work very hard to maintain their IP databases and keep them updated. However, this is not a perfect strategy but it has a high level of accuracy. IP addresses are distributed by MaxMind, IANA, RIPE, and ICANN.
GeoBlocking and GeoFencing
Web applications are able to deny or allow a user’s access based on their ability to determine location. GeoBlocking is a set of rules that prevents a specific region or area from accessing your website. For instance, there may be an e-commerce site that sells organic vegetables that doesn’t sell or ship its items to specific areas. Therefore it makes sense to not allow people from other geographical regions from viewing their site.
Geofencing is a way to further restrict or permit connections. For example, Netflix relies on geofencing. It blocks or permits users according to their country of origin according to the source IP address.
Examples of where Geolocation Services are Used
Geolocation services are used by various organizations and industries for beneficial reasons.
1) Banks- Financial institutions protect themselves from money laundering, phishing attacks, and other types of security breaches by including a user’s location in the authentication process.
2) Law Enforcement- Personnel can rely on geolocation services to track financial transactions that occur online. This can be used to prevent money laundering.
3) Online Fraud Detection- Credit card providers and online vendors use geolocation services to compare the location of the customer’s IP address and the billing address. If there is a disparity between the two, it may signal a fraudulent transaction.