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 another site, request a web
page, 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. Each time you go online
(if you have dialup) or each time you start your computer (if you have
cable or dsl) you will be assigned an IP address, randomly selected from
a pool of IP's assigned to your Internet service provider (ISP). WHOIS
So a person MIGHT be able to get a
general idea of your geographic location, based on your IP address, by
doing a lookup on the WHOIS database, but that will only tell them the
physical location of your ISP -- not YOUR home address.
And if you use a large regional or
nationwide ISP, the IP lookup probably reveals nothing of interest. For
example, if you are an AOL subscriber, your IP address lookup will show
the location as Dulles, Virginia -- regardless of where you live. 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 & time, and they must reveal that information if a court
has found probable cause that a crime was committed by that person.
But 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. 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.
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. 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.
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 articles
How can I avoid computer viruses? and Spy, Counter-Spy (http://www.askbobrankin.com/spy_counter-spy.html)
for details on how to protect yourself from those risks.