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The Dangers of IP Mapping

by Bill

IP Mapping is a convenient tool, especially for marketers who want to know where their internet users are browsing from, without having to ask them outright. Using IP mapping, businesses can sometimes find out where their browsers are located – but usually the information given is the town or general area, however, sometimes services can pinpoint the location down to the exact address.

However, what happens when there are people who mask or hide their IP address, or an IP address can’t be found for one reason or another? Well, these get denoted as preset longitude and latitude values, set up by the companies that create IP mapping software. However, this is a problem because unsurprisingly, people actually live at these random locations.

One troubling example of this has been discovered by a company known as MaxMind. They set the default latitude and longitude for their service as 38°N and 97°W, a simplified version of the true center of the United States. However, this is the location of a farm that belongs to the Vogelman family, who lives there and also rents out the property. Due to the choice of MaxMind, the family has become the target of threats, visits from various law enforcement agencies and many accusations, which are just not true.

The family has a computer, but they don’t really use the internet all that much, choosing instead to use the computer to write letters and make up lesson plans for Sunday school sessions. Despite this, people have left toilets in their driveway, and harassed them for the better part of a decade. Things have gotten so bad for the family that the local town sheriff placed a sign in front of the house telling people to call him instead of bothering the family.

According to security researchers, it’s not like these IP mapping services tell consumers that the IP address they’re seeing might not be real, and the creators of Max Mind say that “it didn’t occur to us that people would use the database to attempt to locate people down to a household level.” However, clearly they do, and it’s a problem for innocent people like the Vogelman family.

So, the lesson here is that technology can provide a lot of useful data, and opt-in user metrics can be used to further qualify information about your audience, but relying too heavily on single elements like an IP address is far too risky a methodology for any astute digital marketer, and guessing can end up damaging your reputation more than you might expect.
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