You never know what nefarious activity might be associated with your IP address — as it turns out, companies that try to map the physical locations of computers and electronic devices have a crude workaround for searches that don’t return a valid location. They instead return a default location, which is the geographic center of the country or state or county. The problem is that sometimes there are people living there, and suddenly the police trying to trace a stolen laptop are knocking on your door with a search warrant.
Back in the day when I was programming stuff, this was consider extremely lazy, sloppy programming. You were supposed to return a sentinel value or NaN for an invalid search, not throw in an arbitrary answer. This is a case where it’s a good idea to tell someone making a query “not found”, rather than making something up.
So now there’s a farmhouse in Kansas that is associated with 600 million IP addresses. The owner has an old Gateway computer that she uses to write Sunday School lessons, but apparently she’s the nexus of all the high-tech evil that goes on in America.
The company that sells this IP mapping service says they’re going to fix it.
Now that I’ve made MaxMind aware of the consequences of the default locations it’s chosen, Mather says they’re going to change them. They are picking new default locations for the U.S. and Ashburn, Virginia that are in the middle of bodies of water, rather than people’s homes.
They’ve learned nothing. That’s not how you do it. I’m kind of shocked that these security companies should be taking advice from an old geezer biologist: don’t substitute in any fake map coordinates. Your functions ought to be returning an indication that the IP address does not have a known physical location.
Next unintended consequence: county police all over the country start lobbying homeland security for the money to buy military surplus submarines, because of the sudden rash of high-tech meth labs being built at the bottom of the lake in the old gravel pit, you know, the one down the road near the center of the county? Yeah, that one. There are a million computers installed in that facility, so you better make sure you get us a nucyuler sub, with the best torpedos and missile tubes.