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posted by martyb on Monday April 11 2016, @03:53AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the this-is-not-the-address-you-are-looking-for dept.

An hour's drive from Wichita, Kansas, in a little town called Potwin, there is a 360-acre piece of land with a very big problem. The acreage is quiet and remote: a farm, a pasture, an old orchard, two barns, some hog shacks and a two-story house. It's the kind of place you move to if you want to get away from it all.

But instead of being a place of respite, the people who live on Joyce Taylor's land find themselves in a technological horror story. For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They've been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They've been visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They've found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

All that and more because the farm's geographical coordinates where naively chosen as the default location in a widely used database of IP address to physical location mappings.


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  • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:10AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:10AM (#329893)

    You are the usual suspect, you vile evil-doer!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:27AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:27AM (#329900)

      You won't get away with this. You'll be executed yet, "Bad Command or File Name"!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:17AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:17AM (#329896)

    I'll bet any court would have awarded big damages for the years of harassment the victims have undergone. MaxMind's "oops, tee-hee; our bad" is a pretty weak response.

    Then again, "oops, tee-hee" has worked for BP, Exxon, whoever's responsible for the big methane leak in California and the US military whenever they shoot their allies or blow up crowds of brown people or MSF hospitals, so maybe it would be a waste of time and money.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:24AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:24AM (#329898)

      Everyone knows geolocation is unreliable shit, especially MaxMind.

      I blame all the morons who do what they're told "because the computer said so."

      For their mindless blind obedience, may emergency workers die ironically in a fire.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by anubi on Monday April 11 2016, @04:51AM

        by anubi (2828) on Monday April 11 2016, @04:51AM (#329908) Journal

        I tried to geolocate on myself...

        Whatismyipaddress.com thinks I live in LA.

        Google Maps think I live in Tacoma, WA.

        Neither is correct.

        With all the subnetting and subletting of internet access, you may find where the ISP is connecting into the net, but only God and your ISP know much where YOU are!

        --
        "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." [KJV: I Thessalonians 5:21]
        • (Score: 2, Funny) by zoefff on Monday April 11 2016, @06:50AM

          by zoefff (5470) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:50AM (#329924)

          Which finally puts them on equal footing.

    • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:25AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:25AM (#329899)

      What's wrong with gassing Jews with methane and shooting brown people? Are you some gated-community liberal who's been living under a rock the past 20 years?

      • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:30AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:30AM (#329901)

        Because, wood gas (carbon monoxide) is a renewable resource, and some people are yellow or red.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @06:19PM

      by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:19PM (#330150) Journal

      It sounds like MaxMind was explaining their interface correctly, but their interface was being used by other companies that represented the data incorrectly to end users. I don't think MaxMind is the irresponsible party here; if lawsuits were the answer they should at least target the companies that represented the data incorrectly.

      He continued: “At that time, we picked a latitude and longitude that was in the center of the country, and it didn’t occur to us that people would use the database to attempt to locate people down to a household level. We have always advertised the database as determining the location down to a city or zip code level. To my knowledge, we have never claimed that our database could be used to locate a household.”

      But people do use it that way. Five thousand companies draw information from MaxMind’s database. And most casual internet users don’t know anything about IP mapping defaults—they just know that when a website tells them that their scammer lives in Potwin, Kansas, they get in the car and go.

      “A lot of apps use this data without warning people it’s not scientifically accurate,” said security researcher Maynor. “How do you educate people that the thing popping up on their screen as the location of an IP address isn’t reliable?”

      There's some legitimate-sounding critisms of the interface in the comments of TFA, but an interface can be poorly designed and still be described correctly. I'm pretty sure we don't launch lawsuits over poorly designed APIs yet.

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Monday April 11 2016, @04:30AM

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Monday April 11 2016, @04:30AM (#329902)

    Hack into the MaxMind servers, change the default US IP coordinates to their stupid CEO's home address. Then he might "take the issue very seriously" for real.

    And while they're at it, do the same to Zuckerberg, Brin or Nadella - see how they feel about the digital future they're building for the rest of us...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:44AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:44AM (#329907)

      And then Joyce Taylor will be convicted of hacking, because the hacker's IP address resolved to her location before the change! You're delusional if you think anything will happen to a CEO except another billion dollar bonus for existing.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by SomeGuy on Monday April 11 2016, @04:51AM

      by SomeGuy (5632) on Monday April 11 2016, @04:51AM (#329909)

      Nice, but that does raise the question of why they didn't choose a better default, such as the middle of a lake so idiots trying to find it would drown themselves. Or perhaps set it point to some secure government facility so anyone trying to find it would get locked up like they deserve.

      Then again, "nowhere" does rather describe Kansas.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @10:51AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @10:51AM (#329978)
        37°14′06″N 115°48′40″W might be a much better place then.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @05:52PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @05:52PM (#330136)

          I'd rather send them to R'lyeh: 47°9′S 126°43′W

          With luck they'll get eaten by Cthulhu and never bother us again.

      • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @06:23PM

        by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:23PM (#330153) Journal

        They changed it to the middle of a lake once they realised it was an issue.

        • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:13PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:13PM (#330243)

          And now hundreds of police officers drown in that lake EVERY DAY trying to find the missing girl. Thanks, genius.

          • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @09:37PM

            by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @09:37PM (#330294) Journal

            Now that you mention it, somebody should put a TOR exit node at the bottom of that lake.

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Monday April 11 2016, @06:57PM

        by HiThere (866) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:57PM (#330179) Journal

        YEAH!! Have it point to Area 52!

        --
        Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
  • (Score: 5, Funny) by SomeGuy on Monday April 11 2016, @04:35AM

    by SomeGuy (5632) on Monday April 11 2016, @04:35AM (#329904)

    Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

    Is there anything that isn't considered a threat these days?

    Around here thats considered just another day of living around rednecks.

    [Insert Jeff Foxworthy jokes as needed]

  • (Score: 2) by kazzie on Monday April 11 2016, @05:38AM

    by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 11 2016, @05:38AM (#329913)

    There's no place like 127.0.0.1

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by maxwell demon on Monday April 11 2016, @06:28AM

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:28AM (#329918) Journal

      There's no place like 127.0.0.1

      No, there are many such places. Here are a few highlights:

      127.6.6.6 — home of the beast
      127.0.8.15 — a completely ordinary home
      127.6.9.42 — home of the answer
      127.127.127.127 — home of the alliteration

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:14PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:14PM (#330078)

        I'll add a couple more
        127.0.0.254 - home of the palindrome
        127.0.4.20 - home of the |

  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by stormwyrm on Monday April 11 2016, @05:43AM

    by stormwyrm (717) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 11 2016, @05:43AM (#329914) Journal

    They should have set the default location in the United States for an IP address whose exact location cannot be determined more precisely to 38°53′52.17″N 77°02′11.4″W instead of the exact geographic centre of the United States. Or perhaps 39°6′32″N 76°46′17″W or 40°25′53.51″ N 111°55′59.13″W might also be good spots. I don't think anyone would actually think that the people at those coordinates would actually be responsible for such nefarious activity. Or well, maybe they would. And some of it might even be more true than anyone knows.

    --
    Numquam ponenda est pluralitas sine necessitate.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @06:26AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @06:26AM (#329917)

      Very funny, but I'm sure Maxmind would rather be sued by a farmer than by Paypal, Microsoft, or AT&T.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @06:44AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @06:44AM (#329923)
        Did you actually bother to look up the three coordinates given? They sure as hell aren't PayPal, Microsoft, or AT&T.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @07:03AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @07:03AM (#329928)

          Whoosh.

    • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Monday April 11 2016, @06:31AM

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:31AM (#329920) Journal

      For addresses "somewhere in America", why not use the address of the white house?

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @01:01PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @01:01PM (#330007)

      I would say pick the local sheriffs office or some other major public building. Say wriggly field for Chicago ;)

    • (Score: 1) by mgcarley on Tuesday April 12 2016, @04:14AM

      by mgcarley (2753) on Tuesday April 12 2016, @04:14AM (#330456) Homepage

      Why not use the coordinates for WBC or KKK or something?

      --
      Founder & COO, Hayai. We're in India (hayai.in) & the USA (hayaibroadband.com) // Twitter: @mgcarley
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by PinkyGigglebrain on Monday April 11 2016, @06:52AM

    by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:52AM (#329925)

    Why did they even bother giving it actually coordinates? Why not set the Default to 0,0? That would make it pretty damn obvious that the data base didn't have a correct location for an IP address. Or worst case someone would think that the address was a ship in the Sea of Guinea.

    --
    "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by khchung on Monday April 11 2016, @07:04AM

      by khchung (457) on Monday April 11 2016, @07:04AM (#329929)

      Using North Pole would be even better. Any fool who is stupid enough to believe the North Pole is the actual location probably won't have enough smarts to go there.

      • (Score: 2) by linuxrocks123 on Monday April 11 2016, @08:12AM

        by linuxrocks123 (2557) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 11 2016, @08:12AM (#329937) Journal

        Bu7 3v4ry1 kn0wz 5an74 h4z l33t sk1llz!!

      • (Score: 2) by DECbot on Tuesday April 12 2016, @06:54PM

        by DECbot (832) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 12 2016, @06:54PM (#330749) Journal

        Actually, I'm quite glad it's not the North Pole. It's getting harder and harder to keep an inconspicuous summer evil layer about those parts. I don't need a bunch of angry idiots looking around for my internet backhaul.

        --
        cats~$ sudo chown -R us /home/base
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @07:06AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @07:06AM (#329930)

      > That would make it pretty damn obvious that the data base didn't have a correct location for an IP address.

      That, and it's a commercial database.

    • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @06:36PM

      by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:36PM (#330161) Journal

      I'm not really familiar with this, I just read TFA, but I think they're trying to be as close as they can so that the data can be used for determining the aggregate location of a group of users. For that purpose, the center of a country could still be more useful than the Sea of Guinea. I could totally see wanting to also provide a radius of error or something, but I think a point is valid as long as it isn't misrepresented. The real problem is that the data was misrepresented to end users by other companies.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by bradley13 on Monday April 11 2016, @09:36AM

    by bradley13 (3053) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 11 2016, @09:36AM (#329958) Homepage Journal

    Who would be stupid enough to think that the coordinates for an IP address are accurate? In the best case, for individuals, they are likely to point to your ISP. For companies, maybe to the company headquarters.

    Add to that: once you get the coordinates, you see that they are in the middle of a field. Sure, there's a nearby ranch house, but if you are going to trust the coordinates, you would need to go after the mice and weasels.

    It's a losing race: you can't make anything idiot proof, because the universe just builds better idiots.

    --
    Everyone is somebody else's weirdo.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @10:34AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @10:34AM (#329974)

      > Who would be stupid enough to think that the coordinates for an IP address are accurate?

      Who would be stupid enough to think these people even know what an IP address is and aren't just using some high-level geo-location app?

      > Sure, there's a nearby ranch house, but if you are going to trust the coordinates, you would need to go after the mice and weasels.

      It/s not iike any of them have ever used a traffic GPS and have any experience with geo-location being close enough.

      > because the universe just builds better idiots.

      Unintentional irony, you are doing it.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @11:03AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @11:03AM (#329980)

        Who would be stupid enough to think that the coordinates for an IP address are accurate?

        Who would be stupid enough to think these people even know what an IP address is and aren't just using some high-level geo-location app?

        This

        The people showing up at this location are not looking in apache server logs, finding an IP address, and then looking up the location, they are using some other kind of highlevel "find it for you" app, that just happens to be using this data, and returning to them a Google map with the pointer aimed at this farmhouse in Kansas. And so the fools (including the law enforcement fools that have shown up) are just blindly pushing the "get directions" button, entering their starting address, and blindly following the map.

        Because, you know, if the computer said so, it must be correct.

        • (Score: 1) by Osamabobama on Monday April 11 2016, @06:46PM

          by Osamabobama (5842) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:46PM (#330165)

          What we need is a good (definition suitably adjusted) horror movie about a group of college students who blindly follow the coordinates provided by findmyphone.com to retrieve a stolen iPhone, only to end up in a sadist's gruesome trap. Horrible deaths, suspense, only one gets out alive...all the good tropes. A little pop culture fear should help cut down on unwanted visitors, if just barely.

          --
          Appended to the end of comments you post. Max: 120 chars.
    • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Monday April 11 2016, @02:04PM

      by tangomargarine (667) on Monday April 11 2016, @02:04PM (#330031)

      Who would be stupid enough to think that the coordinates for an IP address are accurate?

      The RIAA back when they were suing all those college students and grandmothers?

      --
      "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:07PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:07PM (#330237)

      my boss, his business partners, and the business owner. Because it said it on the internet, that's why. It doesnt matter what I think even if I have facts to prove the address is incorrect-- god damn it google maps shows it there and so it must be.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @01:27PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @01:27PM (#330018)

    You know how some websites have a little box that says "your IP address is xxxx and located in (city name)"? Usually they just show the name of the city that the ISP is located. One website had the exact town, and even the name of the street, and a range of addresses (but was wrong on that). How'd they figure that out by an IP addy? It wasn't a seedy website, and it wasn't from a GPS equipped device.
    This is the website, it does ask to find your location... http://shortwaveschedule.com/ [shortwaveschedule.com]

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by samjam on Monday April 11 2016, @03:43PM

    by samjam (3871) on Monday April 11 2016, @03:43PM (#330066) Homepage

    In my day we had NULL for this sort of situation. Not magic values.

    What DO they teach them at school these days?

    • (Score: 2) by bitstream on Monday April 11 2016, @04:31PM

      by bitstream (6144) on Monday April 11 2016, @04:31PM (#330092) Journal

      Eternal September? :P

      Internet has been invaded by hordes of people that got enabled thanks to "easy GUI". Solution.. enforce command line and entering communications parameters after reading a introduction on the subject. It would filter out a lot of the spare reserve of humans.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:53PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @04:53PM (#330103)

      My thoughts were similar. Whatever idiot came up with using a valid location as the default needs to be fired.

      It would have been better to use something like the north pole, 90 comma 0 in GPS.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:42PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:42PM (#330253)

        Yeah, unlike using the middle of nowhere as the default location - which the original coders believed EVERYONE would understand, let's use another place in the middle of nowhere that we believe EVERYONE will understand. That's how we get's shit DONE aroun' here.

    • (Score: 1) by Osamabobama on Monday April 11 2016, @06:49PM

      by Osamabobama (5842) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:49PM (#330168)

      Better yet would be a malformed coordinate (e.g. 100 degrees north) that causes a crash or the ability to execute arbitrary code.

      --
      Appended to the end of comments you post. Max: 120 chars.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:47PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:47PM (#330257)

        No that's too simple. What we should do is XOR their current co-ordinates with that of Trump Tower then add pi but only to seven decimal places, but rounded down instead of up. Ha ha, they'll be thanking us for our cleverness.

    • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @06:49PM

      by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @06:49PM (#330169) Journal

      TFA says that this data gets used for finding aggregate locations of IPs, which is a use case where country level precision can still be useful. Not that you couldn't design a more useful interface, but the data provided can be useful. It's being represented incorrectly by companies that use MaxMind for their own services.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @07:31PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @07:31PM (#330212)

        They also need to do aggregate for state and city/town level too.
        The problem is they overloaded the coordinate data by trying to stuff that info into a data type not designed for it.

        In hindsight they should have included a second field in the return value such that they could zero-ed out coordinates as flag that means look at the second field to determine the aggregate location. But they didn't and now unforseen consequences....

        • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @09:58PM

          by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @09:58PM (#330310) Journal

          I agree completely that their 14 year old service should have a better interface, but I think the unforseen consequences of their interface being used wrong fall squarely on the shoulders of the individual companies that are using the interface wrong. Either they didn't actually read and comprehend the manual or they're intentionally misrepresenting the data to end users. But just replacing their current default coordinates with NULL (as OP suggests) would break functionality for people who are using the interface correctly.

          What would you think of a second field that represents precision as a radius from the coordinates in the first field?

          • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @10:07PM

            by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @10:07PM (#330314) Journal

            Not trying to misrepresent your suggestion as naive, samjam. Just trying to state that there are valid cases relying on the current interface which your suggested change would break, and that I wasn't referring to the AC's suggested interface. I get that you would want to make further changes to the interface if this thing returned NULL.

    • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:37PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:37PM (#330249)

      I always return NULL to indicate a problem, except when I return NULL to indicate a success. Screw those other magic numbers, pfft.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by captain_nifty on Monday April 11 2016, @07:47PM

    by captain_nifty (4252) on Monday April 11 2016, @07:47PM (#330222)

    I recognize Potwin, KS.

    I used to live in a rural location (i.e 1.5 miles down a private road) with no good internet options available, so I used a satellite internet service. It was horrible.

    One of the things I noticed was that all geo-location web services thought I was in this place in Kansas.

    I had assumed that was the satellite downlink location, but this finally explains the real reason.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:51PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 11 2016, @08:51PM (#330260)

      You're in Kansas?

      • (Score: 2) by JNCF on Monday April 11 2016, @10:09PM

        by JNCF (4317) on Monday April 11 2016, @10:09PM (#330317) Journal

        Nobody lives in Kansas, he's either a liar or a corn stalk.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 12 2016, @07:53AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 12 2016, @07:53AM (#330497)

          You misread his post.