IP GEOLOCATION OUTFIT Quova has said that tracking individuals on the internet "does not provide a good return".
Marie Alexander, president and CEO of Quova, a firm that supplies internet protocol (IP) address geolocation data to firms such as the BBC, Facebook, Ladbrokes, Major League Baseball, Symantec and Sega said that IP geolocation is far less intrusive than other means of tracking user location and behaviour such as cookies. Even as one of the largest firms in the IP geolocation market, Quova still says that narrowing a user's location down to a postal or zip code is unreliable.
Perhaps the most intriguing comment made by Alexander was that Quova's research and data collection have shown that a single IP address does not identify an individual person. Alexander told The INQUIRER that in Quova's database, fed by up to 11 years of measurements, there is nothing that links a single identifiable person to an IP address and that the business of IP geolocation is not about tracking people but IP addresses.
Alexander said that Quora's IP database shows that mapping a single IP to a person is unreliable as there is a drift rate for IP addresses. Using BT as an example, Alexander said that the telecoms operator could reassign the same IP address to any part of its network at any time. So even providing a postal code for that IP can be tricky, let alone mapping it to a single person.
As more web browsers implement 'do not track' features, and greater regulation of cookies and what companies can track comes into effect, IP geolocation is set to become a fallback for internet advertisers, which Alexander said some web sites are already doing with their cookies. Asked whether tighter regulation of cookies can help Quova's IP geolocation business, Alexander said, "It would be of some help but not a lot."
So just how accurate can Quova, the firm that supplies some of the biggest web sites around, track IP addresses to locations? Alexander's answer might surprise many, as she said that with its highest degree of accuracy her outfit can pinpoint someone to a 20-30 mile radius, basically within a metropolitan area. Given that some people allow applications to poll GPS latitude and longitude coordinates in certain applications, IP geolocation seems unable to defeat relative anonymity.
Depending on the connection type and country, the resolution could come down to the DSLAM in the exchange, but that still leaves a four to five mile radius, according to Alexander, but she added that "at that level there is a high frequency of change" in IP addresses and that's not even taking into account the existence of network address translation.
Alexander's comments regarding the relatively coarse-grained resolution of IP address geolocation might comfort some privacy advocates, but the admission, by a company which makes money by providing "IP intelligence", that a single IP address does not equal a person is likely to have filesharers interested to learn more, if they should ever receive threatening letters from lawyers representing the big media cartels. µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ