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What is geoblocking and geotargeting?

Localization methods such as geoblocking, geotargeting or geolocation serve a wide variety of purposes. What they all have in common is the technological basis, which makes use of the central properties of IP addresses and mobile devices.

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Geoblocking and geotargeting: a definition

Users encounter localization methods such as geoblocking or geotargeting in many places on the Internet. Media companies use the technology to digitally enforce country-specific copyrights; banks and payment service providers use it to check the origin of transactions to protect their customers from attempted fraud; and in online marketing, the technology is used to target specific user groups. Geolocation is also used as a tool by governments to ban illegal content from the Internet.

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How does geoblocking and geotargeting work? 

The basis for most localization methods is the assignment of an IP address or a MAC address to the geographic location of a computer or mobile device connected to the Internet. The assignment includes a whole range of information, such as countries, regions, cities, and the corresponding latitudes and longitudes as well as data about the Internet service provider and the domain name. Different methods and technologies are used for the matching:

GEO-DATABASES WITH API

Commercial providers store the localization data for IP addresses in large databases. Service providers can retrieve the information automatically via an online interface (API) and thus extend their products with the functions described above. Free databases for the localization of IP addresses are also available. The accuracy of the offerings – both paid and free services – varies depending on the purpose and area of use. In general, the error rate of the databases increases with increasing precision specifications – for neighboring cities or regions, errors can therefore often occur. Since a country-specific distinction is perfectly sufficient for most Internet services, this weak point is of less importance.

HIGH-PRECISION GEOTARGETING USING WI-FI, BLUETOOTH AND GPS

In the case of mobile devices, radio modules allow precise localization via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, which even makes it possible to pinpoint users inside buildings. The precise localization of mobile devices is used, for example, for indoor navigation in large building complexes such as airports, shopping malls or even parking garages. Operators of shopping malls and supermarkets can also use the positioning to conduct practical market research to draw conclusions about the popularity of individual products. In addition, precise geotargeting also allows targeted advertising on customers’ devices. Store operators can use push notifications to inform their customers about current promotions in nearby stores.

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What is the danger of geoblocking?

Totalitarian states and governments often misuse geoblocking as a tool for political censorship to keep critical content away from Internet users. In China, among other things, a complex filtering system is used that completely or partially blocks many Western channels. Even well-known Internet services such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook cannot be accessed behind the large Chinese firewall. Other countries known for their use of Internet censorship are Iran, Syria, Turkey, Cuba and North Korea.

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How can geoblocking be circumvented? 

The technical implementation of blocking, which is mostly carried out by providers, is also often criticized. For technically experienced users, blocking via DNS is hardly an obstacle. Using VPN proxies, the Tor network or alternative DNS providers, country blocks can be circumvented with just a few clicks. Streaming providers have therefore already started to block individual VPN services on their portals to at least prevent this workaround.

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Geoblocking, geotargeting and geolocation: what you need to know

The precise localization of users and devices forms the technological basis for many smart services and security measures on the Internet. Thanks to geotargeting, users receive up-to-date information about local stores and promotions when this data is relevant. Precise navigation services guide users through complex building systems with pinpoint accuracy. Meanwhile, media companies can use geolocation to control the license-compliant delivery of movies, series and music titles. Payment service providers also rely on geolocation, using technology to verify valid transactions. By means of geoblocking, states and governments contribute to security on the Internet and block illegal content for this purpose. However, this procedure is not entirely uncontroversial since all too often the country block is also misused as a political tool.