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Understanding How Websites Track Your Location Online

Have you ever realized about the information trail you leave behind while browsing the internet? When you visit a site, it can log in your IP address which can provide a great deal of information about you and your location. Theoretically speaking, an IP address is not related to a geographic location, but it is possible to determine the location of an IP address in most of the cases.

There are various geo-location systems that use large computer databases for figuring out the exact physical location of an IP address. You can actually buy a few geo-location databases, while there are others which are available free of cost on the net. These geo-location systems are quite useful but have their limitations as well.

Different uses of geo-location systems

A geo-location system can be used in several ways by a company, and here are some of them.

Tracking visitors: One of the most important applications of geo-location systems has been to track the distribution of website visitors based on their location. The information about the location of the visitors can be really helpful for the site in making its advertising and marketing plans. There are many sites today, which present different content to different users based upon their location.

Fighting spam: Spamming has become a nuisance for many sites and geo-location is being used extensively to get rid of spammers. Sites can trace the IP address of users who make comments or send e-mails to block the user.

Geo-location is also used by organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to prevent users from transferring media files over the internet. However, most of the times such organizations work with ISPs.

Limitations with geo-location tools

Over the years, the databases used for geo-location have improved greatly in terms of accuracy. Some of the databases can even match the IP address with longitude and latitude details or with the postal addresses. However, there are still a few limitations to these databases.

The biggest problem is that it is not very difficult to match the IP address with the wrong postal code or address. Some of the databases match it with a very broad geographic area, like  the city where the user is. Also, it is not necessary that all the addresses will appear in the database. So it is impossible to map them to a physical location (this happens quite frequently for IP numbers which are not used very commonly on the net).

In the recent years, wireless hotspots have also become very popular. Previously, it was difficult to track these hotspots. But now, there are numerous online databases that have a record of such hotspots. The services can be very useful for those who are traveling, but the only problem is that the database provides you the name of the network and not the actual IP address.

There are many online services that allow you to enter the IP address in a simple form and then look for the physical location. Most of these services use proprietary databases which contain the address, and are dependent upon the web site registrations and the flow of internet traffic. These databases are designed to be used by site owners and can be bought in the form of a downloadable tool.

Avoiding geo-location

Avoiding geo-location tools is necessary if you want to avoid geographical targeting  by companies or if you want to avoid tracking online. The simplest way to tackle sites which use geo-location is to use a proxy server. Proxy servers are simply computers that are situated in different locations. When you connect to the net through the proxy server, your actual IP address is masked with the address of the proxy server.

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