7 October 2010

Is THIS where you are?

If you are wondering how effective systems are in determining your geo-location, here's your chance to find out. I recently experimented with a few sites that try to determine the answer. You're welcome to give it a go.


1. First up - sites that use the IP number of my internet communication to assess my geo-location.

1(a). http://www.ip2location.com/

 (i) From my office in London, the site calculated my:

Country: CORRECT (UK)
City: WRONG (this site guessed Manchester)


 (ii) From my home in London, the site calculated my:

Country: CORRECT (UK)
City: CORRECT (London)


1(b). http://www.ip-adress.com/ip_tracer/


 (i) From my office in London, the site calculated my:

Country: CORRECT (UK)
City: CORRECT (London)


 (ii) From my home in London, the site calculated my:

Country: CORRECT (UK)
City: CORRECT (London)



 (i) From my office in London, the site calculated my:

Country: CORRECT (UK)
City: CORRECT (London)


 (ii) From my home in London, the site calculated my:

Country: CORRECT (UK)
City: WRONG (the site guessed Berkshire)


I would argue that all three sites gave made a reasonably accurate assessment of my geo-location. The critical question is the degree to which they were accurate. Certainly not accurate to the nearest meter, or even the nearest mile. But all of them were accurate in assessing the identity of the sovereign state in which I was sitting when I asked.

Of course this IP number look-up trick can be circumvented if a person is using a proxy server or a VPN. Both of those technologies make it appear that you are "coming from" a different network location. While each of these technologies exist for good and socially beneficial reasons, some people have started to realise that they can be used in an effort to circumvent Internet Border enforcement. (I'll write more on that on a different day.)



2. Web Browser Geo-location

But now (as we were once asked in a film) do you want to see something really scary?


2(a) Firefox

If you use a Firefox web browser, try this site and click "Give it a try". (I've only used this while I am geo-located in the UK, so I hope it works for you.) A map should open up giving you the option to click a button labeled "Where am I?". If you click this button, a ribbon appears at the top of the Firefox browser warning you that someone wants to know where you are. If you then click "Share my location", the firefox system will attempt to pinpoint your geo-location. When I tried this at home and at my office, the system returns a location accurate to about 100m.

This system works by asking your computer to take a poll of nearby WiFi equipment. So what? You may recall in an earlier post I mentioned that Google had used their StreetView survey cars to create a database with geo-locations of WiFi equipment. So your browser has your computer look for serial numbers (MAC Codes) of nearby WiFi equipment, compares this with Google's database, and presto! There you are.

2(b) Safari

If you want to see the same trick using Safari, you can try this site.


2(c) Other web browsers

I have not tried to find suitable test sites for other browsers, but they are available.


Feel free to post your results in comments below. In your comment, it would help if you disclose your actual geo-location accurate at the "nation-state" level and then report how accurate the sites where at finding you.