Is Your Home Address Exposed Online?

Category: Privacy

An AskBob reader wonders: 'Are my personal details (name, home address, etc.) exposed if someone has my email or IP address? I am 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...

Is Your Location Exposed When You Surf the Web?

Let's start with this... it's no secret that your IP address is no secret. It's a basic and essential 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. Think of it as the return address on an envelope. Sort of.

But that DOES NOT mean that anyone can find your home address or current location 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 or where 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

A clever 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 Internet Service Provider -- not YOUR home address. Keep in mind that when you're at work, your ISP might be your employer. (One easy way to find your current IP address is with the IP Chicken website.)

does ip address reveal location

If you use a large regional or nationwide ISP, the IP lookup probably reveals nothing of interest -- either the location of your ISP's local switching facility, or a placeholder address that corresponds to the center of the town where you live. The IP address for most dialup users will be the location of the ISP's central office. It's the same when you connect to the Internet via your smartphone's cellular data plan. The IP address for my Verizon smartphone resolves to Albany, New York, about 150 miles from my home. And if you're connecting to a public wifi hotspot in a library or coffee shop, the IP address will be associated with that venue's wireless service provider - not you at all.

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 pound salt. 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. Tor is a global network of anonymous proxy servers. Each node acts much like a VPN (virtual private network) server. It accepts your browser’s requests for Web content, connects to the server(s) on which the objects reside, downloads copies and transmits them to your browser. The remote server does not get any data about you, since you never connect to the remote server; a Tor node does that on your behalf. See my article Tor Browser: Polished and Private for details on using Tor.

Want to learn more about online privacy? My article [PRIVACY] Do You Need a VPN? goes into more detail on how a Virtual Private Network works, and why you might (or might not) want to use one. Also check out Breaking Up With the Internet (is hard to do), and Data Brokers: What's in YOUR Dossier?

What About Email Addresses?

The same concepts apply to your email address. The part that follows the "@" sign is the domain name. This can be your ISP, your employer, a webmail provider, an email forwarding service, or even a disposable email address. Given the domain name, one might employ a search engine to determine the domain owner's physical location, but nothing personally identifying about the email user without a court order. (In days gone by, a WHOIS search would reveal the mailing address of a domain name owner, but as of 2018, that information is redacted for privacy purposes.)

Of course, if your email address is something like [email protected], 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. ProtonMail, an anonymous email service based in Switzerland, made headlines in September of 2021 when they divulged the IP address of one user, in order to comply with Swiss law.

Other Considerations

It's much more likely that you or a family member 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. (Do they have a privacy policy that ensures that they won't sell your digital soul to third parties?)

And then there are the all-too-frequent data breaches, which have the potential to reveal all kinds of personally identifying information to the curious and malicious. Oh, and if you have any malware on your system, all bets are off. Those things are designed to violate your privacy.

Bottom line: The physical 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. Your email address is also an unreliable indicator of your actual location.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
Ask Your Computer or Internet Question

 
  (Enter your question in the box above.)

It's Guaranteed to Make You Smarter...

AskBob Updates: Boost your Internet IQ & solve computer problems.
Get your FREE Subscription!


Email:

Check out other articles in this category:



Link to this article from your site or blog. Just copy and paste from this box:

This article was posted by on 22 Mar 2022


For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.

Prev Article:
Do YOU Have a Backup Strategy? (here is mine...)

The Top Twenty
Next Article:
Geekly Update - 23 March 2022

Most recent comments on "Is Your Home Address Exposed Online?"

(See all 30 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
22 Mar 2022

Paul S.,

The answer to your question "My connection to the WWW is via a computer connected to a router which is connected to a separate modem. Unless I turn off or reboot the modem the ISP will always "see" something at my assigned IP address. Wouldn't that prevent DHCP from assigning a different IP address after a computer reboot?" depends on how your ISP configures their DHCP service, but the short answer is no.

For clarity, your router has two logical parts. It has a WAN (Wide Area Network) side that faces the ISPs Network and receives an IP address lease from the ISP. This IP address is what any site on the Internet sees. Your router also has a LAN side. Your router provides DHCP services with NAT (Network Address Translation) for your home Network. The router has a fixed IP address on the LAN side (known as the default gateway), and it issues (and manages) IP address leases for any devices connected to your home Network.

The fact that my ISP-provided modem remains connected to my ISP (and effectively to the Internet) 24/7 has no effect on DHCP services, or the reassignment of an IP address. The same holds true for any device I have connected to my home network. Everything regarding IP assignments depends on how my ISP has configured their networks DHCP server(s). Renewing an IP lease takes a matter of nanoseconds from the point of view of the devices on my home Network, so my devices never see any break in connection or interruption in service. If you want to learn more about how the DHCP service works, you can search "DHCP" on the Internet.

I hope this helps,

Ernie


Posted by:

RandiO
22 Mar 2022

https://ipleak.net/


Posted by:

Dennis
23 Mar 2022


For Michigan physical addresses:
https://michiganvoters.info/index.html

It's all legal based on registered voters.

There may be other states. I think Florida, but you'd have to Google it.


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

Would changing your name to John Smith help to become anonymous? I just searched and there are over 12 million in the USA alone.


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

Would changing your name to John Smith help anonymyze you? I just did a search and there are over 12 million dudes with this name.


Posted by:

Jim Smith
23 Mar 2022

Would changing your legal name to John Smith anonymize you? I just did a search and there are over 12 million dudes with that name.


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

There are over 12 million John Smiths in the USA alone. Change your legal name and disappear in a poof.


Posted by:

Pat
23 Mar 2022

test


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

Great idea!
I'm becoming John Smith, too.


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

Great idea!
I'm becoming John Smith, too.


Posted by:

Bob Connors
23 Mar 2022

To Paul S. There are two kinds of assignment of IP addresses, Static and Dynamic. Which is used depends on the settings of your router.

A static IP address never changes even if you turn off the computer, router and/or the modem.

On the other hand, if you have your router configured to use a Dynamic IP address, it will change every time you restart the computer.

I would assume that most people, especially those using online banking, use the static IP address settings. If they used the dynamic IP address setting, they would have to go through extra steps to verify who they are before they could log into the bank. Also, since most people have cell phones, it is much more beneficial to have a static IP address since both the phone and the computer would be using that address. You cannot use different IP addresses at the same time for different devices connected to the Internet, regardless of whether you use WiFi (wireless) or Ethernet (hard wired).


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

Great idea!
I'm becoming John Smith, too.


Posted by:

John Smith
23 Mar 2022

Same with me!


Posted by:

Jon Fredrickson
23 Mar 2022

I am running Bitdefender VPN. Will this keep my IP Address unknown?


Posted by:

Texana
23 Mar 2022

USPS offers a unique 'street address' attached to po box rental, which can be used as shipping address for most online purchases. Those deliveries end up in po box - a bit more secure than deliveries to home address.


Posted by:

wts
23 Mar 2022

Speaking of privacy: I recently came across some old IRS tax booklets from the 1970s. These were mailed to everyone who filed taxes the previous year. They contained new tax forms with instructions. The *mailing* labels had your and your spouse's SS#'s on them above your name and address! These labels were meant to be attached to the new tax forms.
Nowadays, if you forget your birthday just google your name, particularly if you own real estate!


Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
23 Mar 2022

I'm replying to Paul S. here:

In your reply to this item, you asked:

"My connection to the WWW is via a computer connected to a router which is connected to a separate modem. Unless I turn off or reboot the modem the ISP will always "see" something at my assigned IP address. Wouldn't that prevent DHCP from assigning a different IP address after a computer reboot?"

The short answer to your question is a simple "no", and a computer reboot usually has nothing to do with IP address assignment/reassignment. Here's why.

Your router has two 'sides' - the Local Area Network (LAN) side, and the Wide Area Network (WAN) side. Each 'side' has a different IP address. Your ISP 'leases' an IP address to your router from a pool of available IP addresses they own. This is the IP address that is seen by any website or Network you connect to on the Internet.

On the LAN side, your router has a static IP address (the Default Gateway). Using the DHCP protocols/services, your router leases an IP address to any device you connect to your home Network.

An IP address lease is valid for a specific period of time which is set in the DHCP server's configuration. When the lease expires, it is automatically renewed/re-issued by the DHCP server. The new IP address lease may be for the same IP address or a different one. On the WAN side, the ISPs DHCP server provides this service. On the LAN side, the DHCP server in your router handles it.

Your router uses a protocol called Network Address Translation (NAT) to determine how to route data to/from the correct connected device on your LAN. I will not describe that here. It is beyond the scope of your question.

Unless your router's DHCP server is uniquely configured, the usual behavior is as I described above, so rebooting your computer will have no effect on its IP address assignment, unless its lease expires while its rebooting.

I hope this helps,

Ernie


Posted by:

Drifter
24 Mar 2022

One of the greatest threats to privacy is social media. People often over-share information with total strangers which can come back to haunt them.


Posted by:

Junior R.
24 Mar 2022

Excellent idea


Posted by:

Paul S
24 Mar 2022

To: E N Wilcox
I'm aware of the WAN/LAN difference my router has to deal with and the DHCP server on the LAN side. I have configured a static address for my NAS. But I did forget about the IP lease part that does/can exist on the WAN side. And I do recall that one can request a static WAN IP address from some ISPs to deal with certain special situations. Thanks for some clear explanations.


There's more reader feedback... See all 30 comments for this article.

Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions

*     *     (* = Required field)

    (Your email address will not be published)
(you may use HTML tags for style)

YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! Comments of a political nature are discouraged. Please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.

All comments are reviewed, and may be edited or removed at the discretion of the moderator.

NOTE: Please, post comments on this article ONLY.
If you want to ask a question click here.


Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter

Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy     RSS/XML


Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Your Home Address Exposed Online? (Posted: 22 Mar 2022)
Source: https://askbobrankin.com/is_your_home_address_exposed_online.html
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved