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What's Behind Your IP Address?

As you probably already know, your IP address is the address or logical location of your computer when it's connected to the Internet. Networking software/hardware must know your IP address for you to connect and go online. Thankfully, you don't need to know your IP address every time and enter it in, like a password. However, if you ever want to know what it is, you can find out quickly by going to WhatIsMyIPAddress.com.

Websites and networks also need to know your IP address, in the digital way that computers do. IP addresses are part of TCP/IP, the protocols that networks speak that allow us all to get online. Think of it as a common digital language.

And while it's somewhat rare for an individual to need or want your IP address, there are ways for them to get it. In fact, almost anyone that you email could find yours out.

But what is it they would get?

It's no secret.

A lot of people worry that their IP address might reveal their name, home address, age, what they look at online and more. That's just not the case. Sure, they might find out some interesting information, but nothing revealing.

Let's show you what you can discover by running a real IP address through the IP Lookup feature at WhatIsMyIPAddress.com. You can use a random IP address for the test—even yours. But for this exercise, we'll use 68.4.39.37.

IP Details

This number is the IP address of a computer/router that's connected to the Internet somewhere in Southern California. If there is a single computer on that account, it's the IP address linked to the computer. If the computer is connected to a router, it's the router's address.

The IP Lookup feature isn't linked to an extensive Internet directory. It's not like the landline phone system, where you could grab a phone directory or call the telephone operator and try to match a name and street address to a telephone number. (Talk about a lack of privacy!)

In the Internet world, there's no such thing—not for an ordinary citizen and not even for law enforcement, without a subpoena.

IP Lookup in action.

When you visit the IP Lookup page and paste an address into the empty box, here's what you'll find out:

The first time you see the IP details—especially your city, ZIP code and the area code of where you live—it can be a bit a surprising. The IP details aren't always close. They can be hundreds of miles off, and if the person is using a VPN and a different IP address, the information can be highly inaccurate.

But it's important to see what you don't get in the IP details, and never will. You don't see any real information about the person who is using that assigned IP address, including a street name and address. You will get the name of the Internet Service Provider that serves the domain name...in this case, the cable company Cox Communications. In most cases, knowing the name of the ISP is all that somebody wants to know.

Getting to the source.

There are a handful of practical reasons people use IP Lookup, even with its limitations:

  • Law enforcement and fraud investigators use online tools to see what ISP is hosting a spammer.
  • Blacklist databases use it to find spammers or other violators and block their access to email servers.
  • Retailers often use IP Lookup to make sure someone charging thousands of dollars is at the mailing address linked to the card...and not actually overseas with a stolen credit account.
  • You can use it to verify that someone who tells you in an email that they're across town isn't really in an abandoned warehouse in another country.

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