When we think about communication, we should think globally while acting locally as we are now closer to everyone than we think. In this article, you will be introduced to what IP geolocation means, its application and how it has made it easy to better connect people.
One way or another, you must have come across the use of IP geolocation. You will be so amazed by how extensive the uses can be. It is sometimes referred to as geolocation IP but IP geolocation is a more common term for it.
Introduction to IP geolocation
Internet Protocol (IP) geolocation describes the methods of assigning a location-based label to an individual Internet Protocol (IP) address.
By geographically labelling the IP address, it can provide you with location data such as the state, zip code, city, latitude/longitude, Internet Service Provider (ISP), area code, and other information. IP geolocation can also be referred to as IP address geolocation.
Sometimes, when you browse a website, they pop up the name of your country and you begin to wonder if sorcery is now part of web development, but realistically your IP address has been mapped and this allows the website to automatically detect the location you are browsing from.
To completely understand how IP geolocation works, let us quickly go over what “IP address” means. An IP address refers to a unique number that gets linked to all online activities you do on a particular computer.
It can be likened to a return address on a letter one sends out to friends. The “IP” part in IP address means Internet Protocol. The protocols are connectivity regulations and guidelines that govern computer networks.
It is important to note that IP addresses are assigned to computers, not people and even though the address can be easily seen, you can decide to hide it for security purposes if you so wish.
IP address types
Now that we know that the IP address is essential for everything we do online, let us consider the different types of IP addresses. There are three different types of IP addresses based on their operational attributes:
- Unicast IP address: This is an address of a single interface or connection. The IP address of this type is used for one-to-one communication. The Unicast IP address is used to direct packets to a particular host. For example, this connection occurs between your computer when connected to a server. The server will only send a data packet to a single computer. A data packet is a unit of data made into a single package.
- Multicast IP address: This address is used for one-to-many communication. Its messages are delivered to IP multicast group addresses then the connected routers (which serve as a means of distributing packets) relate identical copies of the sent packets to every machine that has subscribed to the host of those group addresses.
- Broadcast IP address: This is used to send data to all possible destinations in a broadcast domain (the one-to-everybody communication). For example, if Host1 wants to communicate with all hosts on a network and has sent a broadcast packet to a broadcast IP address. All hosts in the same broadcast domain will receive and process the packet.
How does IP geolocation work?
Basically, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) first gives you your IP address. They own a block of IP addresses that, in one way or another, originate from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and some other organisations.
These organizations maintain master lists of allocated IP address blocks and keep track of where they are allocated. The businesses or ISPs that purchase those IP blocks have a physical location or address that can help place them geographically.
Geolocation software takes full advantage of these lists and provides quick methods of labelling IP addresses to countries or in some cases, zip codes. Generally, commercial products will strive for more accuracy and utilize other data sources as well.
Application of IP geolocation
IP geolocation plays a lot of important roles in new technological advancement in different sectors. The use is applied in the following:
- Criminal investigations: In recent times, criminal acts have evolved through the use of the internet. Financial institutions and corporations stand the risk of leaked information or the illegal transfer of funds. There are also cases of identity theft. All these culprits can be successfully traced using the IP address they use for their online activities.
- Geo-marketing: Companies through data collected on users who visit their site can optimize their marketing strategy based on the location they get most visitors from. They can also create content to better serve those locations.
- Regional licensing: Internet movie vendors, online broadcasters who supply live streaming video of sporting matches, or some television and music video websites that are licensed to transmit their videos are authorized to serve viewers only in their permitted territories. By using geolocation, they can heed licensing regulations which will save them a lot of headache in the long run.
- Gaming: There are some types of games built for smartphones or other mobile devices that are location based. In these games, the gameplay evolves and progresses through a player’s physical location which is typically reported through the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) service. Examples of location-based games include Pokémon Go and Ingress.
What are other ways?
IP geolocation isn’t the sole way to find out the location of internet users. With advancing technology, you can use some hardware-based options such as GPS. A second option would be HTML5 geolocation and Application Programming Interface (API).
However, these two methods need the user’s permission to share their location and most of the users are not willing to share this info out of concern for privacy issues. These methods will provide accurate location information and this is not based on the external database.
For example, GPS might not be installed on some computers and IP geolocation would be able to provide much more accurate information in this instance.
IP geolocation software and programs
To properly utilize geolocation, you will need to use an IP geolocation software. These programs have different features and levels of accuracy depending on the developer.
Some of these programs are:
- GeoSurf: This is built in the form of a browser toolbar, mobile and desktop application and it enables users to get the local perspective from more than 110 global locations. It is regularly used by buyers, campaign managers, ecommerce businesses and compliance teams to run geographically targeted ads and web content.
- IP2Location: It offers geolocation service as a database, programming API and also hosted solution. The service is low cost to customers and can work on all devices.
- NeuStar IP Intelligence: This program offers IP geolocation services for compliance, online fraud protection and website content localization. Pricing is by a single query (per use) and starts at $0.001 per query for localized web content. Unfortunately, it does not have a compatible version for mobile devices yet.
- Digital Envoy: This offers two products, Digital Resolve and Digital Element. Digital Resolve deals with securing online accounts, identities, information, and transactions against identity theft and Internet fraud, while Digital Element is designed for businesses by delivering accurate IP-location data, with the ultimate goal of improving and personalizing the online experience for consumers with geographically-relevant content as they interact with business online.
New and advanced geolocation techniques
As we have carefully established, Geo IP uses IP addresses to determine the geographical location of a user’s computer based on the information provided by a database. The location of an IP address can also be determined by the information provided by a host Domain Name Server (DNS) name.
This technique is known as string matching geolocation or Geotracking. The IP names are divided into several pieces. String matching is then used to match a list of known abbreviations of locations to match the pieces in which the IP name is split into. GeoTrack uses traceroute to determine the network path between the probe machine and the target host.
The new technique as proposed by Doxa Chatzopoulou and Marios Kokkodis in their paper on IP geolocation is based on Internet Measurement technique. This technique basically deals with using delay measurements from distributed known locations along with constraints, which are based on topological information.
This technique is low maintenance since it does not need support from a database and its performance is not affected by frequent updates on a database. There are different methods in which this technique can be carried out, some of which are Delay Based Geolocation, Speed of Internet Geolocation, and Constraint-based Geolocation (CBG). This technique is still being proposed and improved on and has not been established yet.
Geo-targeting and geo-fencing
These terms are supposed to be discussed under the application of IP geolocation but it needs more light, hence a special section. Geo-targeting simply refers to the act of reaching a person based on their location. Since the beginning of internet use, websites used a user’s IP address to serve personalized content.
For example, an ecommerce site would display the local currency and store locations based on the user’s country. The drawback is that IP addresses are not exactly precise and it is difficult for businesses to target specific neighbourhoods. Therefore, geo-targeting is more commonly used for broad regions, as an entire city. For marketing teams that want to go more granular, they can use a system called geo-fencing.
Geo-fencing is more like an upgrade to customary geo-targeting. This kind of targeting make use of a mobile device’s exact GPS location rather than its assigned IP address and also updated while the user is mobile, so it’s great for prompt mobile messaging. For example, if a fast food store app discovers a customer close to a physical location it can utilise time limit marketing technique like offering up a discount coupon to prompt an immediate store visit.
A geo-fence can cover a whole city but it’s most effective when targeting smaller regions like specific streets. These targets are very useful for apps that offer deals at nearby restaurants or directs foot traffic to physical stores.
The challenges of accurate IP geolocation
GeoIP is more like a “part art, part science” system. While geolocation programs depend on information provided by databases, ensuring that the resulting data is as accurate as possible is a non-trivial challenge. However, there are numbers of factors that contribute to making it hard to arrive at an accurate physical location result.
Some of which are:
- An absence of basic dataset: Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive, publicly available, and most importantly, trustworthy dataset that ties IP addresses to physical locations.
- Unvalidated registry data: A few IP geolocation solution developers take the data that they get from registries as it is – assuming that the entries are correct, and not validating the information contained within them.
- Inconsistent naming conventions: In developed places, airport codes are often named after the airport itself instead of the city it serves and using these codes gives some but generally not enough preciseness when associated with IP addresses.
- Challenges with latency measurements: Highly precise geolocation through quantification tools like ping, traceroute and wget requires significant propinquity.
- Virtual Private Network (VPNs), proxies, and relays: An end user can decide to pass traffic through a proxy server, VPN, or relay network. In cases like these, the ‘real’ IP address of the user is mostly unavailable for geolocation, since the user’s connection appears to come from the IP address of the VPN/proxy/relay endpoint.
Pros and cons of IP geolocation
There are many Geo IP services available which provide location data in different ways. Some give the GeoIP database while other offer API services to their hosted database. You should choose whether you want to get the details at runtime or host your database. Both approaches have their pros and cons.
You should look for services which provide an extensive database at a nominal rate. The service should be free or low cost for small to medium scale businesses and also provide an option to upgrade as your business grows.
Before going further to start using this kind of software, consider the pros and cons of using the service and see if you can work with it or not.
- It helps to increase the efficiency of online marketing as ads are geo-targeted.
- Businesses can easily target content to users from a particular location.
- You can easily infringe on the privacy and personal data rights of users.
- It is easy to be misled since it is observed that IP geolocation is not completely accurate.
Tech writer and privacy advocate
Julie is a firm believer in equal rights for everyone. She is a traveler and blogger, focusing her efforts on exposing censorship and discrimination around the world. She wants to hold corrupt governments and shady companies accountable by writing investigative articles and helpful guides.