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.

Digital Marketing on the Internet

I was reading a story the other day about a chap from Ireland called Jonny Ward, who had managed to visit every single country in the world.  It had taken him nearly ten years and it was a fascinating tale which inspired both jealousy and some wanderlust!  However there was one aspect of his adventures that I found most surprising which was how he had financed this travels.

watch bbc outside uk and travel

There’s probably many people, like me, who are desperate to travel but always find an excuse not to.   Mortgages, kids, jobs and responsibilities are usually at the top of my list, yet there’s probably one common to us all and that’s money. Travel after all costs money, not only the physical moving about, but accommodation and probably loads of other costs you leave behind you.   If you tally up how much money you’d need for even a year or so’s travel then it starts looking like an impossible dream.

Yet it’s not always the case and there’s a particular lifestyle which easily lends itself to this sort of travel – digital marketing.  You see our friend from Ireland had no real money behind him either, but what he did do which enabled him to continue was start a travel blog of his adventures.  You can find it here if you’re interested – https://onestep4ward.com/ and it’s the story of not only his travels but how he earned over a million dollars whilst doing it.

This simple blog was the key to him completing his adventures, in fact without it he’d have probably ended up stranded in some dead end job somewhere ringing his parents for the air fare home!  He made money from promoting products in the blog which earned hm commission and advertising slots.   It’s quite simple to set up, and if your readership grows the money starts to flow pretty easily.    You can find examples of these sort of sites all over the internet, of course the crucial aspect is that you need traffic without people reading your blog there will be no income.

It’s an illustration of what the internet makes possible though, if you spot it’s opportunities.   The beauty of making your money in this way is you have no boss, no schedule to keep and of course no physical ties.  There are certain things you do need to make this work of course, a working internet connection fairly regularly is a must but that’s not hard to find nowadays.  You can invest in little tools to assists as well, most travellers buy a VPN service to keep their connection secure and allow them to keep in touch.  This tool I use mainly to watch BBC iPlayer in France, yet it also works all across the world.

However the difficulties are all relatively simple to bypass if you put in the effort and take the risk.  There is no real need to tie yourself down to one place, most countries have a reasonable internet or cellphone network which is enough for a blogger to cope and devices like tablets and laptops are relatively inexpensive and easy to carry around.

 

Any Hope for a European Digital Market?

Can you imagine buying a laptop from your local Walmart and then while on holiday in France being told you can’t use it because it was not bought there.  It would be ridiculous, yet this is the situation we are finding ourselves in more and more because of outdated licensing laws and profit maximising media companies.    The digital market is often being portrayed as a brave new world for global economies yet it’s growing despite some last century laws.

This situation with the laptop sounds extreme yet it’s the sort of thing that happens every day for millions of people with regards to digital goods and services.  The prime culprit is of course the media companies who expect us to follow their ridiculous 20th century copyright laws.  The web is awash with digital goods and subscription services which only work in the country you bought them in, how stupid is that.

I live in the UK and every year pay a not insubstantial amount of money in a mandatory license fee to fund the BBC.  I have no problem with that as in my experience the BBC is one of the best broadcasters in the world, it’s easily worth the money.   It is also an innovator, being one of the first to stream all it’s TV live across the web and also for some weeks after through the BBC iPlayer.  It’s wonderful, yet if you travel outside the borders of the UK then it all stops working.

It doesn’t matter that I’m a license fee payer, it’s my location that’s important.  It’s incredible that I even have to ask the question does BBC iPlayer in Ireland work? You’d think so,  but read here, you’ll find it doesn’t without some intervention.   It’s not restricted to a particular company or country, in fact pretty much every single media company of any size follows this model.  None of the fantastic US media sites work outside the US, use Pandora to listen to music – not if you travel outside the US borders you won’t.

There is a little hope, the European Union have identified that this situation is restrictive and unfair and are pushing to try and create the world’s first single digital market.  The idea being that if you pay for some subscription service or movie download in one European country, it will still work when you travel to another.  The internet doesn’t really have geographical borders so it seems crazy we’re trying to implement them.

My New Travelling Companion

I had to go and work in France a few weeks ago, and it was an incredible experience.  However one of the difficulties I had was being a single (and slightly disorganised) person I found it very difficult to keep my domestic life running smoothly.  I had presumed that the internet would make managing my affairs more straightforward, things like paying bills, utilities and subscriptions could all be done online.  However this actually wasn’t as straightforward as I initially thought, for one very simple reason.

This is the situation that what you can do online from an American home is not always the same as can be achieved from a French hotel. The reason is a technology called region locking which restricts access to various websites and services based on your location.   My first problem was a direct result of this, when I couldn’t access my online banking in order to pay some bills.   It turned out that as an anti-fraud measure my banking site was only available to someone connecting from the USA.  Any access from a foreign country e.g France was blocked in case it was fraudulent – sensible but extremely inconvenient.

It wasn’t just this, a myriad of sites I discovered either didn’t work properly or certain features were disabled because of my location.  Even simple things like my Netflix subscription didn’t work properly as I got redirected to the French version (with lots of French dubbed movies!).  I did figure this out in the end by using a US IP address for Netflix  which was a revelation to me.

Using a VPN like this turned out to be the solution, if I needed to use US only websites then I merely connected through my US VPN service.    The site would think I was in the US and my online banking worked and lots of other sites too.   It made life much simpler and gave me that link back to home that was being denied me because of all this region locking.   I also discovered that using the VPN actually made sense security wise too, it ensures all your data is encrypted whilst connected protecting it from anyone who was eavesdropping!

For anyone in the same situation I can recommend using one of these services. They’re relatively inexpensive and can normally be subscribed on a monthly basis which is useful for people who travel occasionally.

More Reading:

http://www.uktv-online.com/entertainment/working-netflix-vpn/

Dangers of Using Torrents

When you first see a torrenting client being used it’s pretty impressive stuff, search for a movie, click a button or two and a little while later it’s sitting on your hard drive.   There is no need for any technical knowledge, no special skills or coding required other than installing one of the many BitTorrent clients on your computer.  It’s simple to see why they are so popular when you can get a copy of a brand new DVD downloaded at no cost whatsoever.

Unfortunately there are risks and these are growing greatly all the time.   The problem lies mainly on the transparent nature of these clients and how torrents actually work.  When you load a torrent file into your client, you aren’t actually downloading anything at that point – it’s simply information regarding a set of files which may be downloaded.  These files don’t actually exist on a single server, they are shared among thousands of computers which are actually downloading the file , known as ‘the swarm’.   When you start downloading your computer joins this swarm and shares the files on your own computer as you download.  The idea is that all the computers help download and share the file, people are expected to stay in the swarm for some time after completion in order to keep sharing the content.

It sounds great in theory, however the open manner leads to numerous issues.  First the sharing, the bitTorrent client is actually sharing out a section of your hard drive with complete strangers.   This is never a good idea in any context, although direct exploits against torrent clients are relatively rare – uploading viruses and malware is extremely common.  It’s basically a simple way to spread a virus because you are automatically given rights to save files on a stranger’s computers.

The risk of infecting your computer and data while using torrents, has always been around but there are greater issues to using this method too.  The problems comes with the complete lack of privacy while using these clients while downloading.  While there is a way of doing this safely not many people bother, this article has more information – best VPN for torrenting.  Imagine this, when I try and download a ripped copy of the latest Hollywood Blockbuster – in the torrent screen I will see the IP addresses of thousands of other people illegally downloading the file too.  Now imagine you’re the copyright holder, this is a list of people who are infringing your copyright.   Every single person on that list is identifiable through their IP address and could potentially be sued for damages running into thousands of dollars.

It’s easy to see how the media firms are attracted to this method, targeting those users with legal action has two main effects:

  • Brings in huge amount of revenue in fines and damages.
  • Acts as a strong deterrent for copyright infringement.

It’s already happening in the US and across Europe where individuals are receiving threats of legal action because they’re internet connection has been used to downloaded pirated content. It’s incredibly lucrative as most people will inevitably settle out of court when threatened.  IF you’re using these torrent clients to download files then you should make sure you protect your privacy whilst doing it.

Further Reading:

 

 

Trump Worries Corporate America

He may have portrayed himself as the President who knows business during the election, yet the biggest companies in the US are starting to get a little nervous about his style.

An example came this week when the Chief Executive of Boeing was quoted in an interview that we was worried about Trump’s stance on international trade.    A few hours later along came a tweet concerning the rising costs that have hindered the building of the new Air Force One.

United States

That was just the morning incidents and in the afternoon, there was a Tweet claiming credit for a Japanese conglomerates decision to invest some $50 billion in the United States.   There was some surprise about this as the pledge had been previously announced many months ago.

All in one day we had this plus an announcement that Trump had sold all his stock, and many other comments, announcements and pledges.   It’s not a style that America is used to and it certainly is starting to make corporate network extremely jittery.  The style that is usually preferred is that of stability and caution from their leadership.  Many businessmen and economics experts are worried that they will not be able to voice opinions without becoming involved in a public spat with the President-elect.

The president obviously has a lot of power and threats even implied ones can have a myriad of effects.   Casual comments about issues have a different effect when they are coming from the President of the United States.  They can potentially inhibit free speech, perhaps cause stock market fluctuations or even contribute to international incidents in extreme circumstances.

Others however have defended Trump’s style of doing business stating that it is just a matter of time before he reigns back his style.  Also there is a learning curve on both sides and individual corporations and executives will begin to develop their own ways of reacting to the new President.

This causes another concern because it appears that President Trump is someone worth currying favor with.  If any politician is seen to be rewarding his friends and allies but punishing people who disagree with him it creates a sort of false, nepotistic capitalism.

The role of a President is to safeguard and promote the whole economy and not cherry pick or manipulate individual businesses.   Every company and individual is entitled to an ‘equal protection of the law’ – one of the bastions of the United State’s constitution us that the country should be a nation of laws and not of men.

Jim Williams

Author of proxy for Netflix