Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Your IP address location could present a problem

Are you aware that you have an address online (that isn’t your email address) and allows you to be traced by cookies and websites everytime you go online?

Every internet device (Phone, PC, Laptop, Netbook) has its own IP (Internet Protocol) address used to identify you when you go online. These are normally assigned by your internet service provider (ISP) or internet access provider (IAP); BT, Virgin, Talk Talk or O2 and Vodafone. If you work in a shared hosting environment then you may share an IP address with other colleagues on the network.

An IP address may not seem that important to you, but it is increasingly being used by websites and applications to geo-target their services and messaging.

Services like BBC iplayer use your IP address to decide whether your device can access their programming online. Regular cross-border travellers may have found that access is restricted once they try to access the site using the hotel wifi while working in Dublin.

At the moment this may not seem problematic, but as our online services become smarter and more geo-targeted, it will become increasingly important that the information referenced by your IP address is correct.

RTE.ie restrict its online television services to those from the Republic and Northern Ireland using IP address information. Users accessing the site from an English, Scottish or Welsh IP would find their access blocked and they don’t have the option of catching up on the extra programming on offer for those of us with Northern Ireland based IP’s.

Here’s the shocker. Some IPs based in Northern Ireland have an IP address that inaccurately locates them in Scotland and parts of England. Hence these people won’t be able to access local web services they are entitled to.

This will become more and more irritating as the line between video content delivered online and television broadcasts becomes increasingly blurred.

Why does this happen? IP addresses are assigned to ISPs within region based blocks. In some cases IP addresses assigned to Northern Ireland customers may fall within Scottish and English region blocks. This has made it increasingly difficult for websites and applications to chart the size of their Northern Irish audience. As the most popular search engine in the world, Google has been doing some work into mapping the Geo-region of Northern Ireland.

Even with their resources they admit to a difficulty of being accurate in their estimations due to IP address confusion, starting at the ISP level.

Google currently measures the potential user base in Northern Ireland at 620,000 IP addresses and allows Northern Ireland based websites to measure their impact into this audience using Google.com/adplanner. Many well established web publishers are concerned about the usage figures represented in the region. According to Google these figures are only as good as the IP data they have.

This lack of clarity around location information of Northern Ireland IP addresses affects the ability of our whole web publishing industry to measure readership figures in an accurate fashion.

Imagine the television industry with the same problem with regard to viewing figures and a print industry with inaccuracies in their readership figures. This is a huge problem that could effect us further.

Imagine how important the sovereignty of internet location affected internet users in Iran, whose government recently attempted to shutdown online communities from discussing political events. They used IP addresses and the lobby Internet Service Providers to provide geographical information. Your unique IP address location could effect your freedom of speech online and your access to free communication.

To check your IP address location you can visit http://whatismyipaddress.com/

Ruairi McNally is media director for Bluecube Interactive ( www.bluecubeinteractive.com) . His email address is Ruairi@bluecubeinteractive.com

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