Why do web sites have my wrong location?

When I’m on a site that uses my location, it invariably has me located way on the other side of town. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never even been to that location. Is this happening because of the location of my computer, before it was sold to me? Is there anything I can do to change this?

If it’s a computer using a fixed-line internet service (ie cable internet, DSL, fiber or dial-up), the websites can only guess at your location based off of the location of your service provider. Phones can provide much more accurate locations, either directly through GPS, or indirectly based off of which cell tower they are connected to)

If I’m connecting to the internet at home in Smallville via a VPN connection to my employer in Metropolis, websites may believe that I’m in Metropolis, because that’s where my company connects to the public internet. The OP’s internet service provider is probably located on the other side of town.

I have more extreme examples. One of the generic pop-ups I often see is along the lines of “Canny homeowners in [my home town] are clamouring for this new [product]…” - and OK, I guess computers route somewhere and advertisers can figure out more or less where I am. But increasingly I’m seeing things like “The new funeral plan that is sweeping Belfast…

Belfast?? I’m not even in that country - I’m just south of London, for chrissakes. How come they are now making so gross an error in my location? (Or is it some sort of non-obvious deliberate strategy? It’s certainly eye-catching)


While at work, in New Hampshire, all store websites I browse during lunch believe we’re in Bloomfield, Connecticut which is over a two hour drive away, while our internet service provider is located in the city I work in. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Rite Aid…they all think we’re in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

There are a few different services that provide IP to location mapping. None of them are perfect. You can find stories about the house in Kansas or South Africa that keep getting flagged as the location of stolen phones.

Anyway, the services will use some method to say “these addresses from this ISP are in this city.” Maybe that was true at some point in time, but due to internal reorganization, perhaps the ISP now shares a common block of addresses across several cities, the location may be inaccurate. Or perhaps it never was completely accurate.

My IP at home is officially dynamic, in that it could change at any time, but in reality it has not changed in years. However, my website detected location occasionally changes, though it mostly stays in the metro area.

This website lists the location results for your IP from three different services. Two of them get my correct city, and one does not.

The location services use your IP address, which is just a unique identifier for a computer on the internet, like your social security number is for you, or a phone number is for your cellphone. There is NOTHING in the IP definition that supports location mapping, much like there’s nothing preventing you from visiting another town or country while having the same ssn and cellphone number.

However, IP address chunks are semi-permanently allocated to an internet service provider (ISP), so they can map an IP to that ISP’s address, which is usually close enough. IP numbers change and get reused quite frequently (every few days-weeks) so anything more specific than the ISP’s general coverage area is generally impossible.

This. Web sites regularly guess at my location as being in an another suburb that’s about 4 miles away from where I live; my assumption is that that’s my ISP’s nearest local hub is located.

When I’m at work, I regularly get an “assumed location” that’s 700 miles away, since that’s where our company’s IT hub is located.

All of this is true about using your IP to locate you, but that isn’t the only method. There is also the location service in your browser, which likely uses Google’s location service. This can use information gathered from your Google account (including from your phone’s GPS) to locate you. It’s also possible to use detection of nearby wi-fi signals to try and locate a person. Or just having your actual address entered somewhere, like on payment information. Only when all else fails do they fall back on IP location tracking.

However, all of this must be deliberately allowed by the user. Browsers will ask if you want to give your location. If you don’t allow this, then IP location tracking is all they have. Also, for some sites, that’s enough, so they don’t even bother trying to get your location any other way, so as not to annoy the user with the prompt.

So, yes, in this case, it’s most likely that it’s just where your ISP is located. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to track someone’s location online.

(I have my phone’s GPS turned off at all times, and only turn it on when I’m away from home, specifically because of this. I also have all location prompts blocked.)

Google thinks I’m in a location in another part of the suburb I’m in. But I happen to be familiar with that street and know that it’s a residential area. No businesses at all there, so definitely not the address of my ISP. This may be the same thing as the house in Pretoria and the farm in Kansas except on a more local level.

There’s just a ton of idiocy in the people who program these things.

E.g., on some sites they are able to figure the name of the area I live in. Then they map that to a completely different town with the same name in another part of the state and want to show me stuff “near me”.

I check into how they are tracking me. They manage to map to my zip code. The fact that this other town is in a completely different zip code zone doesn’t matter.

Zip codes are not duplicated. Names are. Nice coding there, pal.

On further consideration, it’s not that. I remember I gave Google my address some years ago for mapping purposes. And for quite a while that was remembered. But Google likely just associated my physical address with my IP address. So it looks like my ISP switched around the IP addresses of its customers and now Google now thinks I’m someone who lives across town and thinks someone else is me. At one time I found out my IP address and saved it, but now I can’t find it. So I can’t confirm this is what happened.

At work, “my location” is out of state in a Chicago area suburb where corporate has their US HQ. My home has “moved” over the years wandering from a small burg 30 miles away to a major metro suburb an hour away and to my ISP HQ in a gulf state.

Two of these place me across the state 3-4 hours away. The third puts me a few hours bicycle ride from the state’s geographical center.

My phone location is usually turned off. That typically returns where I was the last time I had it on. It could be tower based as I was not too far away when that occurred. (Current weather at work as opposed to at home)

So I’m clear on the exact issue here:

Panache is concerned that when the ad says: “These Hot Women are looking for Hook-Ups in your area” that HotDarling 28/F “West Cleveland”, is not actually in West Cleveland she’s actually in East Cleveland? :smiley:

Just be glad you don’t have the same problem as these poor people:

When I would prowl around the interweb when things were slow at work, the adverbots would assume I was in Dallas. That’s where the main offices were and my connection to the world was through our WAN.