IP Addresses are Different

Many people are under the illusion that an IP address is just a string of numbers and that’s it.  Unfortunately it actually tells people a little more than that and it is data which is actively used when you visit any major web site.  So what does it say?  Well first of all an IP address determines what country you are in, so you can be categorized as a French web surfer or an American surfer and so on.   Further this location can be more detailed, easily to the specific town you are in and in many cases even more specific.

Yet there’s more, you see IP addresses are also classified into categories based on use.  So you can determine whether an IP address has been assigned to a commercial organization, an educational establishment or a home user.   This information is also used to categorise you even further, for example in advertising or restricting access based on your situation.    So to summarise that meaningless number that allows you to access the internet can identify your exact location and whether you’re surfing from home or not.  Compiling this information together with everything you do online soon builds up a very accurate picture of a person, their likes, employment, political and  social status.

This information is obviously used to target people with online advertising and to customise the products you might see in an online store. You imagine that everybody sees the same web pages when they visit but that’s not true.  All this information is used to tailor the major web sites to an almost individual basis.  It’s also used to restrict access, for example try getting the BBC News streaming abroad, unfortunately if you’ve got a non-UK based IP address and that’s not going to happen.  The BBC restricts access not based on whether you have a TV license or not, merely if you happen to be in the United Kingdom when you try and use the site.

Fortunately this is relatively simple to spoof, however it get’s more and more difficult depending on how much information they use.  For example a company which has a very extensive web presence is the media giant Netflix, however they also have a complex tax to deliver their service.  They have to license shows on a per country basis, so a movie may be available in USA Netflix for example but not in UK or French Netflix.  To enforce these restrictions they initially relied on the location of the IP address, however millions of people managed to bypass these.

Within a few weeks there were many workarounds, you didn’t have to look far to find a a post with the title – How to Change IP Address to USA for Netflix. Which basically explained how to use a VPN or proxy to hide your real location and watch whatever version of Netflix you wanted.

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