Just like how cars have license plates and houses have an address, all our online devices have a unique identifier – the IP address.
And just like those identifiers, an IP address can tell a few details about you, such as your geolocation.
Wondering how that happens?
Keep reading as we dig into the workings of an IP address, the sort of information it divulges and to whom as well as how to keep yourself safe online.
What is an IP address?
An IP address is a string of numbers that are assigned to any device connected to the internet. The device uses this IP address to communicate with websites, other computers and elsewhere on the internet.
An IP address is basically how devices on the internet recognize each other, somewhat like a passport to the online world. Any device that can connect online to the internet, from computers to routers and smartphones, has an IP address. Your device will not be able to interact with other devices or websites without this form of interaction. The address is assigned by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and every IP address is unique – yes, there are billions of these addresses online.
What is its purpose?
An IP address reveals your geolocation, allowing the internet to deliver curated content in your language that is relevant for you.
For instance, if you were to search for a pizza joint, it is your IP address that helps deliver local restaurants on your search results.
How can I find my IP address?
It’s easy. Just log on to your favorite search engine and type out “what’s my IP address.”
It’s as simple as that.
It is worth noting that your IP address changes every time you connect to a new router or Wi-Fi connection. As an end user, you won’t know the difference nor will you need to.
What information do IP addresses show?
Most often, your IP address reveals the city you are accessing the internet from, the ZIP code or ISP’s area code, and your ISP’s name.
While IP addresses do reveal the geolocation of the device, it is not the precise address and personal information like phone numbers and names aren’t revealed. However, details like an area code, ZIP code or city name that you are logging in may be revealed.
Often, it’s your router’s IP address that’s shared and not the addresses of your individual devices such as the smartphone or laptop. Your devices will share the IP address with the router but it is the router’s address that is used when connecting to the World Wide Web.
This is why your IP address almost always gives out the geolocation of the ISP’s closest servers and it is also how your IP address reveals the ISP name.
No one can directly figure out your location or identify you with your IP. However, others can use your IP address to follow your online activity and use it to piece together bits of your identity.
How do you protect your IP address?
The easiest and most straightforward way to protect yourself online is to use a VPN. By encrypting your information, it leaves you completely anonymous online. Additionally, it completely changes your IP address and can place your geolocation wherever you wish, whether it’s the next state or a country in the next continent.
Can an IP address reveal your identity?
An IP address does not outrightly reveal personal or confidential information so it is usually not dangerous for anybody to know it. However, it all depends on the person accessing it.
For instance, authorities can use it to pin illegal activities and read your browsing history while employers can use it to see what you are doing while at work.
Meanwhile, advertisers are known to use your IP address to analyze your online history and target you with related products and services. And when it comes to ecommerce, retailers will cross-check your mailing address with your geolocation while subscription services use it to block users from accessing content that’s not available in their location.
If criminals already know your personal information, they can contact your ISP and commit a vishing attack.
The bottom line is that nobody can turn up at your front door using just your IP address but taking measures to protect yourself will keep you safe from malicious attempts and advertisers.