While the notion of an IP address may make it seem like it ties your computer back to a physical location, that’s not quite the case. An IP address can’t cue anyone in to your name or location directly, but it does register the city, state, and country in which you reside and it can often give snooping eyes a general estimate of where you are, often within a few miles of your actual location. Further complicating the issue is the fact that IP addresses aren’t static. Over time, they can shift between different devices or even transfer over to other locations. While that makes it tricky to pin down someone’s location based on their IP address alone, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. IP geolocation lookup is a recent methodology that allows for more pinpoint identification of users location. It’s still a developing technology, but it’s made some serious strides in the past few years.

How IP Geolocation Works

Geolocation has managed to find its footing due to the large amount of information out in the world. All modern IP geolocation lookup services rely on databases that collate data.

At its most basic, what a geolocation service does is deduce a user’s location by sorting through all the information available, comparing that data, and coming up with a best guess for the user’s location from the results. Naturally, the accuracy of these results are determined by the size and scope of the databases in question and the sophistication of the artificial intelligence and algorithms that parse the data. While much of the process is automated, it does require a human touch to evaluate the accuracy of the results and tweak the information to be more effective. Improperly working geolocation services could lock users out of content they should be able to access, so a high level of integrity is important.

What Information is Stored in Geolocation Databases?

The registry data serves as the core information associated with an IP address.

Whenever a company registers an IP address, it links the address to a physical address, and that information is stored in Regional Internet Registries. While this is a good start for any database, it can be inaccurate. That’s why good geolocation services also parse hostnames in search of potential regional clues. Also useful are browser geolocation APIs. Whenever a website asks for the permission to share their location, it serves as a benefit to these geolocation services. They may also link physical addresses entered when making purchases and corrections provided by the user themselves to create a stronger correlation between the IP address and the geographic location.

What is Geolocation Used For?

IP Geolocation can be a valuable tool for online businesses, since it allows them to get a bigger picture understanding of where their customers are located. Along with other collected data, this information can be used to provide a better user experience and offer more targeted content. It’s also used to enforce content rights. Streaming services like Spotify or Netflix often lock customers out of certain content due to regional licensing restrictions. The more accurate the geolocation service, the more effectively these services can protect the rights of content creators. And having an IP address tagged to a physical address allows in fraud protection as well, since it helps vendors flag suspicious activities when an IP address doesn’t match up to the shipping or billing information of their customers.

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