If you own a few internet-connected devices like the rest of us, you might have noticed an “IP address” in your device’s Wi-Fi settings.
At the time, you probably dismissed it as some tech jargon that didn’t affect how you interacted with your device.
We’re here to tell you that while it won’t change how you interact with your device drastically, it can most certainly affect your privacy online. In this article, we’ll be going into what an IP address is and what it’s used for.
What is an IP address, and what are they used for?
An IP address stands for an internet protocol address. These are numerical values assigned to a network device, and they’re used for identifying and locating network devices. If your device can connect to a network, it has an IP address.
However, with advances in technology, they’re often used for much more than just identifying your device within a network.
Marketers use IP addresses from devices that connect to public Wi-Fi to estimate how many people will be in a store at a given time so they can assign the correct number of staff to man the stores.
London’s Tube network uses a similar location tracking technology to track commuters, better plan trains, and reduce congestion by learning from commuters’ behaviors as they move through the stations.
How an IP address can incriminate you.
When you access a website, your IP address is revealed to the server it’s connecting to. Think of it as exchanging phone numbers with a friend: both parties need to have each other’s complete phone numbers for proper communication to take place.
So, when you browse the web, your IP address is revealed to hundreds of servers worldwide. This presents a significant privacy risk, especially considering that your IP address is unique to your device and can’t be changed.
The best way of understanding this is by thinking of a crime scene. Not every fingerprint on the scene is responsible for the crime. Even if there were only one fingerprint, you’d still need more evidence to link the owner of the fingerprint to the crime.
You’ll share a public IP address with other users when you connect to a public network that uses network address translation (NAT). Should someone access an unsavory site using that network, you’re officially a “suspect.”
Is an IP address sufficient for legal liability? It depends.
The exact stance on this issue varies by jurisdiction.
If you’re in the US, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an IP address is not enough to pursue a case of copyright infringement.
In other words, for a good case to be made, the copyright owners would require more than just an IP address.
If you live in the EU, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that online identifiers like dynamic IP addresses can be considered personal data in certain circumstances.
Dynamic IP addresses refer to IP addresses assigned to a computer by the internet service provider and change each time a device accesses the internet.
The verdict: It’s wise to hide your IP address, even If you’re not a supervillain.
Regardless of the law, hiding your IP address is still a good idea.
Even if you’re not worried about being implicated in someone else’s activities, hiding your IP address holds several other benefits, such as hiding your browsing activity from your service provider and keeping your searches private.
It might seem like an extra hassle, but taking the time to learn about the benefits of hiding your IP address can save you a lot of grief in the future, so please do so.