Internet Geolocation: A Solution or a Problem?

26/10/2016

Is it possible to find out the actual geographic location of the IP address from which a user connects to the Internet? While at first glance it would appear to be simple, answering this question involves many difficulties, as a system that is 100% efficient has not yet been found to precisely locate all IP addresses in the “real world.”

During its most recent event held in Costa Rica, LACNIC promoted a debate on IP address geolocation and various aspects of this technology, its uses, issues involved and possible actions that the regional community should carry out in search solutions. Carlos Martínez (LACNIC), Owen DeLong (Akamai) and Wilson Rogerio Lopes (Itau) participated in the discussion, which was moderated by Ricardo Patara (NIC.br).

Carlos Martínez, LACNIC CTO, presented several examples of the difficulties that have been encountered in the region due to geolocation errors. He mentioned cases in Curacao, Colombia and Argentina. He even mentioned a company that had filed a complaint with LACNIC alleging that “the IP addresses (they had received) were faulty,” as their geolocation placed them in a place where the company was not operating. Martínez commented that this person had been told that LACNIC has no responsibility over geolocation.

Nevertheless, he added that “LACNIC increasingly feels we must be part of and play a role in the solution.”  In this sense, he noted that it is essential for the community to decide the role LACNIC should play in IP address geolocation. “This requires intense, broad debate,” concluded LACNIC’s CTO.

According to Owen DeLong of Akamai, the main concern for end users is whether “they are being geolocalized in the right place, as they have no possibility of seeing which geolocation provider provides incorrect information.”

DeLong believes that a major difficulty is the lack of standardization among geolocation providers on how to report such errors. In this regard, he pointed out that geolocation companies should operate a centralized clearinghouse, a single point where users can report geolocation errors so that databases can be corrected. “I would like the industry to work on things such as these,” he added.

In his presentation, DeLong called for better communication with end users regarding how to report errors geolocation. “For this to be feasible, we need better centralized geolocation error dissemination and information reporting mechanisms,” he concluded.

Ricardo Patara, Internet Numbering Resource Manager at NIC.br, observed that Internet geolocation is being used for marketing purposes (advertising, campaigns to disseminate information) and for users to receive content that is relevant to a specific country or region.

He noted that certain industries use geolocation to control access to their content based on where each user is located, and that this might potentially lead to censorship.

He added that geolocation errors often affect users, as they may end up being offered services in a different language or aimed at a different culture, “content that is of no interest to them, while access to services of interest is denied.”

He stressed that users don’t know where they should address their complaints. “To geolocation companies? To their service or content provider? To their ISP? This is not always clear, as there is no client/server relationship among these parties.”

To conclude, Patara warned that “the situation (with geolocation errors) may become worse in the future due to increased use of CGNAT and more frequent IP address transfers among different regions.”

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