IP Geolocation is mapping an IP address or a range of IP addresses to an approximate location using a combination of sources.
This mapping does not need to be accurate since IP addresses don't carry any actual information about their locations. These locations are approximated after gathering as much information as possible by the third or first-party companies trying to use the IP Geolocation information.
IP address registration
The first bit of information they look at is the IP address registration. IP addresses are registered to a particular entity. This entity could be your ISP, a data center, or a large business. In the case of your home or business internet, it is most likely registered to either your ISP or whoever they lease the IP addresses from.
When the IP is registered, it should contain information about the entity and its respective service regions.
This is a broad list of potential sources of positional data that companies may use to further ‘pinpoint’ a location from an IP address.
- Data contributed by service providers (United Fiber doesn't provide any location data outside of our required IP address registration regions)
- Guesstimates based on other IP addresses from the same or similar ranges
- Data mining or user-submitted location data
- This can include when someone fills out their location for free services such as weather apps, online stores, or account information. If enough people on similar IPs fill out the information, it can generally be assumed the location data is similar between neighboring IPs.
- GPS provided from a mobile device
By combining the registration information with all the information gathered from other sources, approximate locations can be determined. If they are correct, they are usually no more accurate than a particular town/city. For example, it won't know your exact address.
What is IP Geolocation commonly used for?
- Locating nearby stores or vendors
- Showing you location-specific data, such as regional pricing or offers
- Suggesting translations due to primary languages being different across various countries
- Detecting spoofing or fraudulent actions by noticing weird trends in approximate locations, such as jumping from one area to another at an impossible time. (Missouri to California in 20 minutes)
What is IP Geolocation bad at?
IP Geolocation is not always accurate. It should not be used as the only means to verify location, even though some companies try to use it in such a manner.
For example, YouTube and Hulu try to utilize it as another source to verify the DMA a customer should be in for their live TV services, and when it is wrong, it can cause them to switch your DMA randomly. This will change what local content you see—for example, sports or news stations may get switched to another city.
IP Gelocation can be quite useful for things like fraud detection or location-specific geolocation information. Still, it can also be annoying when it is misused and the data is wrong such as with TV provider DMA location verification.