Geolocation software

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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[1] (including down to the city and post/ZIP code level),[2] 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.

Data sources[edit]

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.[3]

Some commercial databases have augmented geolocation software with demographic data to enable demographic-type targeting using IP address data.[4]

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:

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[5] and/or gleaned from network hops.

Accuracy is improved by:


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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8] The technology is already widely used in multiple industries,[9] including e-retail, banking, media, telecommunications, education, travel,[10] hospitality, entertainment, health care, online gaming and law enforcement, for preventing online fraud, complying with regulations, managing digital rights[11] and serving targeted marketing content and pricing.[12] Additionally, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed that geolocation software might be leveraged to support 9-1-1 location determination.[13]

Criminal investigations[edit]

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.

Fraud detection[edit]

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.[14] 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.

Geo marketing[edit]

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.[15]

Regional licensing[edit]

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.[16] 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.[17]

Target content[edit]

In geo targeting web sites can show different web content based on a user's geolocation or other information. For example, going to 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "IP Information". 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2013-04-11. 
  2. ^ "NetAcuity Edge Offers Hyper-local IP targeting". 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  3. ^ "IP geolocation (The NetOp Organization)". 2009-01-28. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  4. ^ "Digital Element Partners with Semcasting on Location-Based Solution". 2011-09-13. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  5. ^ An example is the guessed city provided by
  6. ^ "Nitke vs. Ashcroft - Expert report of Seth Finkelstein". 2003-11-10. Retrieved 2004-11-15. 
  7. ^ RealNetworks detects proxies and anonymizers; Google serves non-localized content if location is in doubt. "Geolocation: Don't Fence Web In". Wired. 2004-07-12. 
  8. ^ "Digital Envoy wins Geotargeting Patent". 2004-06-29. Archived from the original on June 17, 2011. Retrieved 2010-04-19. 
  9. ^ ClientSideNews, Nov/Dec 2010 issue, Page 6 “You Can Really Do That? – The Power of Geolocation Technology”
  10. ^ Marketing Magazine, February 10, 2011 “Thetrainline brings Digital Element on board for localised ad task”
  11. ^ Music Streaming site we7 Cranks up the Volume for Digital Rights Management and Ad Targeting
  12. ^ "Geolocation and Federalism on the Internet: Cutting Internet Gambling's Gordian Knot". 2009-10-04. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  13. ^[dead link]
  14. ^ IPInfoDB (2009-08-25). "E-Commerce fraud detection". IPInfoDB. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  15. ^ Internet Retailer “Personalized web site content gives retailers an edge’, June 25, 2010
  16. ^ "CinemaNow appeases studios by locating Web surfers". CNet. 2001-02-26. Retrieved 2010-04-22. 
  17. ^ Associated Press (2004-07-12). "Geolocation: Don't Fence Web In". Wired News. Retrieved 2006-09-28. 

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