What Is IP Geolocation and How Does It Work?

Every device connected to the Internet has a numeric address known as an IP, short for Internet Protocol. These addresses are stored in registries that are governed by organizations known as Regional Internet Registries, RIRs. There are currently five RIRs, with The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) serving USA, Canada, Antarctica, and parts of the Caribbean. Other areas are served by the African Network Information Center, the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre, and the Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre. Each RIR manages and distributes IP addresses.

Others can look up a person’s IP address to gain information about that user. Geolocation data is stored within a database, and search results may be incorrect if the IP location API uses an out-of-date listing. Internet service providers may also contribute information to those databases, and IP searches may rely on other data to further pinpoint a user’s location. For example, an IP might become associated with a location because the user has previously searched for their local weather forecast.

The Accuracy of IP Geolocation

Although IP geolocation is sometimes wrong, you might be surprised by how accurate it can be. At times, it can pinpoint you to your very latitude and longitude. Other times, looking up an IP address can zero in on the region, city, or zip code along with your Internet service provider. While this lookup cannot give information about a person, just their device and connection, people have used that information to find additional information.

Sometimes people who want to protect their privacy will use a VPN, which hides their IP address and, by extension, their location from anyone or any computer that they might interact with online. A VPN will produce false results for any search that uses an IP geolocation API. Similarly, a proxy server can hide that information from prying eyes but not without the risk of slowing down the Internet connection.

How Geolocation Can Benefit You

There are benefits to detecting geolocation, however. Your device can serve you with recommendations for nearby businesses such as places to eat, or other useful information. Geolocation can also be used to locate people in times of distress, to find users who have threatened harm to themselves or others, and even to prevent money laundering. Banks even use geolocation services to protect customers from phishing attacks and to prevent security breaches.

Although it’s natural to be wary about the information that you broadcast online, IP geolocation has legitimate and helpful uses.