How accurate is IP GeoLocation?
Where's Waldo? Well, now you can find out—that is, if he's connecting with you online.
Through a simple Internet tool, you can generally get a good idea of where someone is communicating with you through the Internet, if you feel you need to do that. You can get pretty close to finding their location, but not as close as you think.
You can get a good idea of the where someone is emailing you from using a geolocation tool, like the one right on our site (see IP Lookup). And that, for the most part, should be good enough. It will not give you anyone's name and address, but it's not supposed to. That would be a violation of their privacy... and a little too creepy.
Zeroing In. Sort of.
When you came to the whatismyIPaddress.com website, you saw that your IP address was conveniently displayed on the home page. And you also saw—maybe surprisingly—that other information was displayed, such as your:
- ZIP code
- Longitude and latitude
Whoa! Where did that come from? It came from the IP address geolocation service used to look at the IP address of wherever you were when you visited our site. The IP address you saw could be your home computer's IP address, or the one at the local coffee shop or airport. It all depends on where you are.
Maybe that unnerves you a bit. But you can also look at this as a way to be educated on the power of the Internet and the tools that you (and others) can use to keep safe. (Read our section on Change IP Address.)
After all, your name, street address, nickname or favorite color were not revealed. Chances are, your location was, at best, some five or six miles away from your home.
And as this article is being written (at a local coffee shop), the geo-locator says I'm near Wichita, Kansas, when I'm in fact smelling the breezes off the Pacific Ocean between San Diego and Los Angeles. (If you go to our Hide IP address page you'll find out how that can happen.)
Still, even when not pinpoint accurate, geolocation usually puts a computer user in a nearby town or area, which may be good enough for the person who wants to know where the curious email they received was really sent from. Check out Trace Email.
According to companies that report on these things:
- Accuracy rates on naming the city from an IP address vary between 50%-80%.
- Determining the nation of an Internet user is 95%-99% percent accurate, for reasons that have to do with how IP addresses are allocated and registered.
- Determining the physical location of the user, down to a city or ZIP code, is trickier and less accurate.