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geolocation

noun [uncountable]

the technological process of determining the real geographical location of an Internet user

geolocate

verb [transitive]

'Prominent among those tools is geolocation, the web geography technology that determines the true geographic location of the online customer at the moment he clicks into the website – the country, state or even city.'

BankersOnline.com 25th April 2005

'According to documents lodged with US Patent and Trademarks Office over the last week, the NSA [National Security Agency] is looking to patent what it calls a "method for geolocating logical network addresses", and names the Internet as one of many possible applications.'

Computerworld Australia 28th September 2005

There was a time, not long ago, when, as we sat at the computer surfing the Internet, we felt anonymous in the virtual world, no one knowing who we were or where in the world we happened to be. However in 2006, Big Brother could indeed be watching you – or at least know where you are – due to the advent of geolocation.

among the range of useful applications of geolocation software is the prevention of online fraud

Geolocation is a technology in increasingly widespread use, which makes it possible to determine the exact location, in the real world, of visitors to particular websites. It usually works by identifying locations based on a computer's IP address, a unique number (similar to a telephone number) used as an identifier when the machine is linked to the Internet. GeoPinpoint™ is one example of commercially-available geolocation software which translates IP addresses into real geographical locations.

Among the range of useful applications of geolocation software is the prevention of online fraud. Until now, anonymity has been one of the main strategies adopted by online criminals to avoid detection. Banks or other targeted institutions have not usually known where in the world fraudulent users are sitting as they access accounts and submit credit applications, but now they have a means of finding out.

Geolocation also has an important application in e-commerce. Businesses which know the location of online customers can tailor products and advertising information to suit the preferences of particular regions, varying things such as language, currency, product range or marketing strategy according to the location of consumers. This concept is now often referred to as geotargeting, based on the established business principle of targeted marketing.

Geolocation is not confined to the Internet. Some mobile phone service providers have used the technique to determine the location of a mobile phone on their network, and provide services appropriate to the geographical location of the user.

Background – geolocation

The term geolocation is a blend of the words geographical and location. The concept evolved about five years ago, but has steadily gained ground amidst the growing significance of online commerce. The verb form geolocate is also sometimes used, often in the passive or as a participle adjective, as in geolocated web pages.

Geolocation can be controversial, some regarding it as an invasion of privacy which forces users to disclose their location when they may have good reasons not to. Internet users wanting to avoid geolocation can purchase software to counteract it, available at websites such as anonymizer.com.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 24th April 2006.

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