When you access the internet, your network sends a packet of information with an IP address to a server. That server then uses that packet to deliver files onto you.
IP addresses provide location data, but that’s not enough for website owners and advertisers to track you. In order to gain more insight into your online habits, they require cookies as well.
How do websites track your IP address?
When you connect to the internet, your computer’s network router sends data packets to websites on your behalf. These packets contain an IP address which tells the router where to send each piece of information.
Your IP address is assigned by your internet service provider and uniquely identifies you on the web. It does not give away your real location nor does it give accurate details about where you reside, but website owners can use it to monitor what activities take place on their platform and for how long.
Most people are unaware that their internet connection can be tracked by their IP address, which is something you should be aware of if you value your privacy online. To protect yourself from website owners tracking you, consider using either a virtual private network (VPN) or proxy to hide your real location from them.
Web servers also track and store your IP address as part of a server log, which contains data about your web browsing habits. The length of time this information is retained varies depending on how often you access the site each day or week and is usually set by the administrator of the server.
Websites often track your IP address by analyzing the data they see when you visit their site. This could include pages visited, ads clicked on, and even mouse movements.
Tracking software, also referred to as “web bugs” or “pixels,” collects information about you by viewing pages you visit, your location and how long you spend online. It can be employed for many purposes such as advertising or fraud detection and more.
You can stop tracking by using a browser designed for this purpose. For instance, Chrome and other browsers provide a placemark indicator which alerts you when a site has accessed your location.
You can also adjust the settings on your browser to prevent it from sharing its GPS or Wi-Fi radio with a website. Doing so makes it harder for websites to use HTML5 geolocation and other techniques for determining your physical location – which is currently the most accurate method available.
Why do websites track your IP address?
Your IP address is the location of your device when connected to the internet, similar to a postal address for your home. It allows devices to communicate with each other and websites on the web.
IP addresses are essential components of the internet’s architecture, found on computers, phones, tablets and streaming devices alike. DNS serves to list domain names and their corresponding IP addresses.
IP addresses are dynamic, changing frequently. Therefore, websites cannot track your location using them.
Websites can use your IP address to estimate your approximate location based on details such as country, state, city and ZIP code; however they cannot link it back to a physical address.
Fortunately, it is possible to hide your IP address so that it isn’t shared online. The most reliable way to do this is by using a VPN – this masks your IP address and prevents it from being traced outside the network.
However, even with a VPN to hide your IP, some websites still have the capacity to track you down. They can combine your IP with other information they have about you (like browsing habits and what links you click on) in order to create an individualized profile of you that they then sell onto advertising networks.
Modern browsers display a permission prompt when visiting websites that request your location. These pages can then use this data to display information such as nearby stores, weather forecasts, maps and more – right down to the precise location you are currently in.
Though not ideal, weather websites can be useful in certain circumstances. For instance, they might display the best places to go in your area when it’s snowing or the sun is out.
Some websites also use your IP address to target ads at you, which can be quite irritating. They use this data to customize ads based on what products are most relevant to you and which sites offer similar products.
What can websites do with your IP address?
Every device connecting to the internet has a unique IP address, similar to your social security number which is assigned by your ISP or internet service provider.
Websites can track your IP address using a web server that stores and displays this data. The information may be displayed on the site or sent directly to your device for personalized ads.
They can also view your location if you grant them access. Modern web browsers will prompt you to grant this permission if they require it for things like weather or mapping services.
However, you can prevent websites from detecting your physical location by altering your Internet Protocol (IP) settings. Doing so will alter how devices communicate with the web.
Websites will only display the city or area you live in, instead of your actual home address. This can be helpful for sites that want to show nearby businesses and maps in those areas as well as when using Google Maps or Apple’s Siri for directions.
You can alter your location in the settings of your internet service provider, which is especially useful if you are moving house or changing Wi-Fi providers. Your new ISP will assign a different IP address that is closer to where you reside now.
Tracking your location online may be illegal in certain situations. Employers who attempt to monitor employee activities online may even request your Internet provider’s name and home address so they can investigate your activities.
Cybercriminals may use your IP address to frame you for illegal activities, such as downloading copyrighted material or child pornography. This practice of spoofing is known as IP blocking and it violates both federal and state law.
Advertisers can use your IP address to send targeted browser or email ads based on the content you’ve read. This is especially beneficial for campaigns centered around a particular topic, like gardening or raising bonsai trees.
What can websites not do with your IP address?
Your IP address is a unique number that enables devices connected to the computer network to communicate with each other. It works similarly to your home address; when shopping online, you provide it so the store can send you the items desired.
However, that doesn’t mean websites cannot use your IP to identify you or track where you are on the web. In fact, many sites actually do use this data to target advertisements based on your online activity.
But you should be wary of this data set, particularly if you’re an online consumer. It presents a potential goldmine for identity thieves who could use it to access your personal information and impersonate you on social media channels. They could also download copyrighted files and child pornography, traffic drugs or explore the dark web.
Protecting your privacy from this kind of tracking is possible with a VPN. It also helps get rid of annoying advertising on devices, which website owners often use to track visitors’ IP addresses.
Keep in mind that your IP is simply a number, not an address or physical location. It’s like providing a company with your business address when shopping online.
Websites may be able to determine your exact location based on IP address information, but they typically use a more general city and region instead. That is because websites cannot tell exactly where you live unless you provide them with your physical address; otherwise, processing all that data would take too much time.
If you wish to keep your physical address separate from online activities, there are plenty of apps that let you do this – some even free!
Thankfully, most internet service providers and email services no longer reveal your IP address when sending an email or clicking on an advertisement. This makes it more difficult for identity thieves to hack into your email account and access personal information; however, if you’re unlucky enough it may still occur.