In computing, geolocation software is used to deduce the geolocation (geographic location) of another party. For example, on the Internet, one geolocation approach is to identify the subject party's IP address, then determine what country (including down to the city and post/ZIP code level), organization, or user the IP address has been assigned to, and finally, determine that party's location. Other methods include examination of a MAC address, image metadata, or credit card information.
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:
- African Network Information Centre (AfriNIC)
- American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN)
- Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC)
- Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address Registry (LACNIC)
- RIPE Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC)
Secondary sources include:
- Data mining or user-submitted geographic location data. For example, a weather web site might ask visitors for a city name to find their local forecast. Another example would be to pair a user's IP address with the address information in his/her account profile.
- Data contributed by internet service providers.
- Merging databases from different suppliers.
- Guesstimates from adjacent Class C range and/or gleaned from network hops.
Accuracy is improved by:
- Data scrubbing to filter out or identify anomalies.
- Statistical analysis of user submitted data.
- Utilizing third-party tests conducted by reputable organizations.
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.
American banks, software vendors and other online enterprises are now subject to strict new “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. These laws are designed to prevent money laundering, trafficking with terrorist organizations and trading with banned nations. By identifying where online visitors really are, 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. It is imperative that prosecutors provide the background IP 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 USA 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.
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.
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In geo targeting web sites can show different web content based on a user's geolocation or other information. For example, going to google.com may redirect the user to a local Google site such as Google Belgium, or it may show a 'Go to Google Belgium' link. In various European countries, Google or Yahoo! do not display results which would show negationist websites (see LICRA v. Yahoo!). In marketing applications, web sites with geolocation software can display different content based on a user's location, such as different advertising offers, merchandise selection, pricing and/or local currency and local news. Colleges and universities can use geolocation software to display relevant courses offered in specific locations. Chain store retailers, including restaurants, can display local offers, menus, and promotional offers unique to a certain geographical area. Financial institutions can show customers the nearest facilities based on their geographic location, as well as the lowest available home equity rates.
Hulu uses IP filtering that prevents anyone outside of U.S. IP ranges using its service. This is an example of geo-blocking. Some users within the U.S. are also being blocked because their IP has not been added to Hulu's Geo-IP database. Many users are able to navigate through geo-targeting by simply employing proxy or VPN service such as UnoTelly and Hotspot Shield.
- Location-based service
- Locator software
- W3C Geolocation API
- Geolocation Video Software
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