Does Email or IP Address Reveal my Physical Location?

Category: Privacy

A reader asks: 'Can someone track a user (name, home address, etc.) simply by having their email or IP address? I'm asking because I posted to an online forum, and both my email and IP address were displayed publicly. Does that give others the ability to find my actual geographic location? Can I be tracked down in any way?' Read on to learn the answer to this common question...

Are You Invisible Online?

It's true that your IP address is no secret. It's a basic part of internet communication protocols to send your IP address whenever you connect to a website, send an email, make a forum/blog post, chat, play an online game, etc. Without your IP address, the computer on the other end wouldn't know where to send the reply.

But that doesn't mean that Evildoers can find your house if they know your IP address. Knowing your IP address does NOT give anyone the power to hack into your computer, NOR does it reveal who you are. Typically, each time you go online (if you have dialup) or each time you start your computer (if you have cable, fiber or dsl) you will be assigned an IP address, randomly selected from a pool of IP's assigned to your Internet service provider (ISP).

Finding the Physical Address for an IP Address

Does IP Address reveal location?

A person MIGHT be able to get a general idea of your geographic location, based on your IP address, by doing a lookup using a free Geo-IP database, but that will only tell them the physical location of your ISP -- not YOUR home address. (Keep in mind that when you're at work, your ISP might be your employer.)

If you use a large regional or nationwide ISP, the IP lookup probably reveals nothing of interest (probably just the location of your ISP's local switching facility). The IP address for most dialup users will be the location of the ISP's central office. For AOL subscribers, your IP address lookup will always show the location as Dulles, Virginia -- regardless of where you live. And if you're connecting to a public wifi hotspot in an airport, library or coffee shop, the IP address will be associated with the wireless service provider - not you at all.

Bottom line: The address returned by an IP lookup *could* be within a few miles of your home, or it could be wrong by several orders of magnitude.

When The Law Comes A Knockin'

Of course there is an exception to every rule. If Joe or Jane User calls your ISP and wants to know who was using a certain IP address last Tuesday, the ISP will tell them to go away. But if an officer of the law hands your ISP a court order to reveal that information, they must do so. Your ISP's logs will enable them to determine which customer was using a certain IP address on a certain date and time, and they must reveal that information if a court has found probable cause that a crime was committed by that person.

For the truly paranoid (or the criminally inclined) there are ways to surf the web anonymously. The Anonymizer service will act as a proxy between you and your ISP, and they claim that your information cannot be subpoenaed because they do not store it. See I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me and Personal VPNs for Anonymous Web Surfing for more information about anonymous web browsing options.

What About Email Addresses?

The same concepts apply to your email address. The part that follows the "@" sign is your ISP's domain name. And given the domain name, one can determine the ISP's physical location, but nothing personally identifying about the email user without a court order. Of course, if your email address is something like Jsmith90210, then you're leaving little to the imagination of a determined hacker or stalker.

Web-based email accounts are not truly anonymous, either. Even if you don't provide your real name when signing up, they can capture your IP address and track you through your ISP if necessary. But again, a court order would be needed.

Other Considerations

It's much more likely that you or your children will reveal your physical location the old fashioned way -- by just blurting it out. Kids who chat or play online games should be reminded often that they should never reveal any personal information, including their last name, phone number or home address. And of course, when you make an online purchase, you're explicitly providing your home address to the merchant.

Oh, and if you have any spyware or viruses on your system, all bets are off. These things are designed to violate your privacy. If you need help with scanning your system for spyware, adware and other unwanted pests, see my article on free anti-virus software for details on how to protect yourself from those risks.

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Most recent comments on "Does Email or IP Address Reveal my Physical Location?"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

Thanks to Snowden we already know that an officer of the law with a subpoena isn't needed by the government anymore. Oops, is government watching what I'm typing? Probably shouldn't try to fly now - they probably read this and now I'm on a no fly list.

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

For fun I downloaded the Pirate Bay version of firefox to see what it does.

It connects through something called the TOR network which has been in the news lately..... on about page 56.... if you read that far.

I was a bit shocked and felt quite annoyed when I discovered that according to a few mainstream journalists the network was a tool of 'sex fiends' and 'terrorists'.

I think that it's the usual propaganda from the lunatic fringe but haven't used it.

There again I do have an anonymizing thingie on the server which I've never bothered to set up either.

I've never been that worried about my IP address - all the sites that quote 'to you in' are wrong usually by 10 miles or so..... very odd.

BTW - I live in Cardiff (the Capital city of Wales) and the IP usually traces to Barry a small town 10 miles distant.... go figure?

It's a weird world!


Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

Yet another helpful informative and relatively concise article Bob. If you keep this up I'll need to consider nominating you for an Order of Australia but um I think you've go to be an Aussie citizen to get one. Maybe one of your American fans could nominate you for a similar US honour?

Posted by:

06 Nov 2013

As usual...very informative. Thanks for keeping us abreast of the abuse of powers that be. Absolutely nothing is secure. I think we all know that by now.

Posted by:

07 Nov 2013

I googled my personal email address and I found my cell phone number, my home address and my business website with a business address with a business phone. One of the alternative addresses that I provided when I registered my domains and my website is my personal email address with Comcast. That is a reality that is no privacy anymore. Internet stores as Amazon and eBay even know who you are corresponding with. Perhaps they have an access to my mailbox that on their file. Is there some law and regulation to protect our privacy? Is there the way to complain on this kind open practice to spy on us?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Whoa, there! You say "Internet stores as Amazon and eBay even know who you are corresponding with. Perhaps they have access to my mailbox." Where did you hear this? Sounds completely bogus to me.

Posted by:

Old Man
07 Nov 2013

It appears people are confused between what can be learned from an IP or e-mail address and what is available on the Internet.
What Bob says about the IP and/or e-mail addresses is correct. They only lead to the ISP's service. I've seen many complaints on other sites that people can't get their actual location correct on their computers. That's because location programs use the IP address, not the physical address.
On the other hand, every time a person signs up for a newsletter, makes an online purchase, enters a contest, takes a survey, and a multitude of other online activities, he/she provides his/her name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and a lot of other personal information. That's where people-search companies, advertisers and spammers get their information on an individual; not from the IP address or e-mail domain.

Posted by:

D.S. Rama Prasad Dubey
07 Nov 2013

Please inform me which free e-mail service will give me details of sender's IP and geo-location when I receive all of a sudden a mail from unknown sources?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some webmail services (GMail) do not preserve the sender's IP address. Yahoo does. This may help:

Posted by:

07 Nov 2013

Privacy is alive and well but it protects your ISP and not its users. See,

The following is cut and pasted, "If you wonder where privacy appears in this document, here it is: 1) the ISP is not allowed to tell you that you are being snooped on (enforcing the privacy of law enforcement); 2) if multiple law enforcement agencies want to read your e-mails or listen to your VoIP calls (both are specifically covered) the ISP is required to not tell any of those law enforcement agencies about the others, and 3: there is no three. Customer privacy is never mentioned in the document."

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

Using the Electronic Frontier Foundation free test ( you will likely find as I did, that your computer is uniquely identifiable from system data transmitted to every site you visit, including the particular fonts, and their order, that your browser will render. My computer was completely unique among over 3 million tested. More sites and companies are using this data, as people become more cookie-aware. So, handling IP address and cookie issues is insufficient for privacy concerns. More info in this 3 yr. old article:

Posted by:

nancy H
19 May 2014

I am trying to locate a guy who I chat with for over one year...he does not show himself online but he sent me pictures of himself and he promises me that he will come and see me...I am frustrated and looking a way to find out more about him. he gave me email address which I could pull more pictures of Google image and he was surprised how I found his old picture...but when I sent him emails it bounced and he said he dosent know why he there anyway I could figure out and find out where he lives and what he does? I know it sounds naive but I just like to find out ....please advise...

Posted by:

22 May 2014

Nancy H--try Facebook to find him, but I doubt he'll have his address and profession listed. If he is clueless enough to post those on FB, I would lose interest in him very fast.

Posted by:

26 May 2014

hey nancy!
I have too same story like you, some man write to me by more than half years and he never show himself just send me picture. he say that he live in nyc, and have divorse..

Posted by:

02 Oct 2014

Facebook is evil. Avoid it at all costs.

Posted by:

Janet Kaiser
23 Apr 2015

I am afraid this is woefully out of date and rather naive. I am currently trying to stop Skype saying where I am. That is only one example of how geographical location is revealed against users will and interest. Location is pinpointed so privacy is non-existent. It is pernicious...

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, it's not out of date or naive. Nothing has changed with the nature of the Internet or IP addresses that would allow someone to determine your physical address, given your IP address. As I mentioned in the article, in SOME cases, an IP address can give a GENERAL idea of your location, but it's not reliable.

Posted by:

23 May 2015

My soldier friend emailed me from Sudan but the ip shows he is sending from California. Am I being scammed?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Probably not. Sometimes service members connect to secure Internet servers here in the USA. Was there something suspicious about the message?

Posted by:

Jan Soldice
07 Jul 2015

The best thing to do is always use a VPN that does not keep logs.

Posted by:

29 Aug 2015

Great report! I'm a skeptic with the way social media has evolved so quickly. I like the pearls of information I'm gaining each time I read your articles. Thanks.

Posted by:

"Senior" College Student
08 Sep 2015

Received Junk Mail that is problematic when I attempt to set up the "Block" sender. The Outlook message says I cannot block by own email address. The problem is the "Sending address" was actually replicating "my email account" as both "sender and receiver" of the email. How can a spammer manipulate the email address line to "hijack my actual email account". When I follow the "message source" it does show the background script of the originating IP address. Now, how to I get this Spanner out of my email account? Does anyone know what I'm talking about? Today is Sept 8 2015.

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's quite common for spammers to fake the From address. It doesn't indicate that your account was hacked or hijacked. You'll have to filter on something else.

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Posted by:

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