The Layman’s IP Address, Decoded

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The Internet offers a host of terminologies that become commonplace in nature and remain elusive to some extent. But some of them are crucial as they are linked to our everyday Internet activities and are enmeshed with Internet privacy.

One of them is IP address, which is a truncated version of TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol).

What is it?

An IP address is basically an online unique identifier. Consider this: What are the necessary details required for two people to communicate? The name of the other person (who am I going send an email to?) and the address (what is the mailing address?). The communication between digital devices follows the same norm. An IP address helps devices to communicate with one another via the Internet by providing a set of information about the location of the devices so that devices would know where to send as well as where to collect information from. It helps differentiate each device from the other over the Internet at a specific point of time.

A standard IP address looks like this: Four whole numbers separated by decimals. You can look up your IP address using the link.

IP Address decoded

IP address lookup

There are hosts of websites that help one to look up IP addresses. But their accuracy is still debatable. This is because factors like where was it registered at the first place, what is the location of the agency that controls the IP might affect the results. For example, a US Blackberry user on Verizon network will have its IP showing a Canadian location. Also, a simple IP address lookup gives very general details like the following:

  • The IP address
  • The ISP organization’s name, e.g., Vodafone India
  • The country
  • Region, State
  • Latitude, longitude

Thus, very basic geolocation particulars are provided and not specific granular details. This is helpful, as detailed location information would impinge on privacy.

Types of IP addresses

Static: It is the address configured by the user by editing the computer’s network settings. Mostly online gamers for easier identification use them.

Dynamic: In this case, the IP is active only for a limited period of time. Thus, they are temporary and there are not many instances of address conflicts, i.e., two devices coincidentally having the same IP address at the same time.

ip address lookup

IP address lookup: What can be seen?

As mentioned earlier, a very broad geolocation data is provided during an IP address lookup. But the catch is that the online activity connected to a particular IP address can be analyzed by anyone wishing to do so. For example, a Wikipedia entry by a user can help someone enter the user’s address (the IP addresses are public) into a search engine and analyze the activities like other message boards that s/he visited. This can lead to people being exploited by advertising networks for targeted advertising and by criminals through extortion.

Thus, even though an IP address does not qualify as a unique “individual” identifier, it does have the potential to lookup for more than the associated geolocation details.

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