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The Secrets of Geolocation Accuracy

Geotagging all around the globe

You see it all of the time in spy thrillers and police dramas. From The Bourne Supremacy to Criminal Minds, we see a suspect traced to their exact, hidden location using IP geolocation, and based on its accuracy, the good guys burst in to save the world from peril. No matter what technological tricks the villains use, eventually, their internet activity can be traced to a specific location.

You may have the tendency to laugh this technology off as fictionalized. “Perhaps Jason Bourne can be traced to Paris,” you may think, “but the geolocation accuracy to figure out his IP address points to a room in an individual room? That feels like a fantasy.”

What if we told you that it’s not fantasy, exactly? What if you learned that even a widespread search engine like Google can use geolocation to pinpoint your exact location?

Geolocation services can’t give voyeurs a look into your bedroom, nor will they disclose your name and address. Some services will only point to your town or to your neighborhood. However, through your IP address, this technology can hone in on your location with stunning accuracy. 

A cool geolocation tool

We’ve got a fun and easy-to-use geolocation tool called IP Lookup, which will show you the approximate geolocation of your IP address. If you update your location in your browser, the accuracy will be even sharper.

IP Lookup is an IP address tracker that brings up a map to show your state, city, etc. Your personal information is never revealed. It’s a free tool, and you can use it from any device you have connected to the internet. 

If you plug other IP addresses into the IP Lookup, you can check out where your friends and email senders are located as well. Again, it will never venture into personally violating territory. Another example of geolocation accuracy can be found on social media sites like Twitter. Twitter employs a map tool that will allow you to see the countries and regions where your followers are located. 

Is geolocation your exact location?

IP address geolocation accuracy isn’t quite as nefarious as it sounds. In fact, geolocation tools are vital to law enforcement, thriving businesses, and marketing campaigns. Geolocation can also allow you to protect yourself from phishing schemes and other bad online actors such as spam links, fraudsters, and hackers.

Geolocation doesn’t allow others to see that you’re on your Zoom call in your South Side Philadelphia living room, wearing sweatpants and eating chips. However, it can trace your location to your neighborhood and possibly even your street. For example, applications like Google Maps can even bring up geo-tagged photos of your location, but unless an internet user already has your home address, your front porch won’t show up in a geolocation search.

The benefits of IP address geolocation

As a positive tool, geolocation allows users to experience areas of the world they may not have a chance to see otherwise. The same geotagging services that allow others to see your neighborhood allow you to see specific global locations.

If a criminal suspect in hiding uses a smart electronic device, law enforcement officials can use geolocation accuracy to determine their location.

Geolocation accuracy can help growing businesses discern where most of their customers live, and helps them to target the specific demographics who may be in need of their services.

You can use geolocation to discern the URL or IP address of an email or online message sender: If you’re about to click on an unverified site, geolocation accuracy can alert you. For example, an email about an undeliverable package from Amazon may be spoofed and a phishing scam. Geolocation can help trace the email and IP address so you can avoid opening a hacker’s trap.

An illustration of a geolocation in a landmark

How well do you understand geolocation accuracy? 

Geolocation services are found in GPS (Global Positioning System) equipped smart devices, IP addresses, and cell phone towers. On a federal level, the U.S. is dedicated to geolocation accuracy when broadcasting GPS signals into space, but the government doesn’t ensure the accuracy for the average user.

A wide array of factors can impact geolocation accuracy. For example, if your internet device has a weak signal or you use a VPN when you’re online, your geolocation data cannot be processed.

The broad definition of geolocation data includes all precise data — typically the signal that emits from any smart electronic device — that can, across the globe, determine the location of anyone. The data is then processed to mark longitude and latitude coordinates within a reasonable distance and can geotag your social media posts. 

Where does geolocation data come from?

There are a variety of sources that provide geolocation data, and sometimes, your specific location is vital to obtain specific information. For example, local weather forecasts and a search for “stores near me” will yield better results due to geolocation accuracy.

Similarly, many mobile apps utilize geotagging for specific results. Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, store locators, and local news websites may use your geolocation to give you access to pertinent content. Even your smartphone’s photo gallery may ask for your location data.

Some of the most common sources of geolocation data include:

  • Cell phone networks: Your cell carrier collects data via your phone and Internet usage on your smartphone, and the cell towers that connect your phone to the network. The network can triangulate your location through this data. 
  • Geotagging: Although you can opt out of geotagging on photos, most social media sites have some form of geotagging to show where you’re posting from and to identify archived information. This identification may then be used to suggest geotags to others who are pinpointed to your general region, or users who post similar photos.  
  • GPS: What did the world do before GPS? Use paper maps? GPS has become such an integral aspect of modern life, you may feel lost without it. It is installed in most cars manufactured after the beginning of the 21st century. We rely on GPS to get us to unfamiliar destinations, and GPS is also a source for geolocation data. So how does GPS collect data? The initial data comes from satellite images. The technology then instantaneously triangulates a user’s location and creates a digital map surrounding that data.
  • The Internet: Each time you connect to the Internet, network servers allow you to do so based on your IP address. This also allows the Internet to identify your specific physical location. The websites that you visit and the emails that you send all contain your IP address.
Geolocation on an android phone

How geolocation accuracy can work for you

Understanding how geolocation accuracy works can help you to take proactive measures to keep yourself safe. Although most geolocation services will not lead villains to your front door, you may choose to use a VPN, hide your IP address, or browse the Internet via “Incognito Mode” to protect your personal information.

If you need to confirm someone’s identity or location, you can use our tools to run their IP address through as well. Your personal IP address is displayed every time you visit the What is My IP Address homepage. Your data that appears on the homepage also includes:

  • The country you’re accessing the Internet from
  • Region of the country you’re in
  • Your city
  • Your zip code  
  • Your longitude and latitude coordinates

This isn’t necessarily information that comes from your static IP address at home. If you click on our site from a public or private network in your office, at a library, in an airport, or at your favorite coffee shop, this will be the physical location our application uses for geolocation accuracy. 

The future of geolocation technology

Geolocation technology tools aren’t going anywhere. If you drive a 21st-century car, use the Internet, or geotag your photos, you’re utilizing geolocation technology. Some technology and geolocation application developers even believe we will have “smart cities” in the not-too-distant future. This means that urban planners and developers will employ geolocation accuracy and data to help with traffic flow. Smart cities will also allow city officials to report real-time, vital information to residents.

You don’t have to fear geolocation applications — you often use them without realizing it. Geolocation accuracy has a plethora of benefits to help the overall betterment of society.  That said, locked-in geolocation means your fixed IP address will be easier for hackers and online companies to discover.

To protect the security of your geolocation, you should use a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which encrypts your online data and offers an extra layer of security to keep sites from tracking you.

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