Did you know that there were over 4.5 billion active internet users as of October 2020? And that number keeps rising. With more and more people joining the web, so do privacy concerns by users. Any device used to access the internet e.g. a computer normally has an IP address used to identify it. With privacy as the top priority for most Americans on the web, can anyone track your online activities? Is IP tracking illegal, particularly in the US? What is it really, and how can you prevent it on your web device?
What’s IP tracking? (and is it illegal in the US)
Before you learn what’s IP tracking and its legality, it’s important you learn what an IP address is. An IP address is simply a special number used to identify your computer, phone, or any device you use in the internet or local network.
An IP address allows your computer to be identified by other computers connected on the web via the Internet protocol. There are two main types of IP addresses, namely IPv4 and IPv6. An IPv4 address looks something like this: 67:43:14:95. An IPv6 address is quite longer and looks something like this: 2601:0440:0000:0000:a94e:5ca7:81e2:519.
So back to IP tracking and its legality in the US: IP tracking simply refers to tracking other’s IP addresses on the web. IP tracking is legal only when used in B2B marketing and not person to person.
In the US, IP addresses are considered personal data when referring to individuals, but when the IP belongs to a business, it’s considered public information. This is why lots of B2B organizations do IP tracking all the time. IP tracking helps businesses and organizations better understand their online audiences, and also to generate leads.
The only other way is when law enforcement does this through a subpoena, where they can find the suspect’s Internet Service Provider for the IP address in question. A subpoena is simply a legal tool used to compel suspects in order to prove the case, usually through threatening them with penalties for refusing to comply.
There’s some bit of confusion on the legality of IP tracking because lots of data regulations haven’t been specified yet on how IP addresses should be categorized. Businesses with websites normally do IP tracking by using small snippets of code and software, to know the IP address of other businesses visiting their website. They are then able to identify the businesses visiting their website, then target them later in order to boost more sales and acquire more leads.
So you may be asking, what if you’re using your personal phone to access a business website that uses IP tracking, will the business know everything about you? Since they have your IP? The answer is no. When using your phone to surf the web, your IP won’t expose your personality. This is where privacy policies come into play. Privacy policies in the US are strict and the only thing the business can get from you legally is the IP address. They won’t be able to know your name or location. But is it possible to hide even your IP? Read on to find out.
Tracking IP with VPN
You’ve now learned how IP address tracking works and its legalities, but is it possible to hide your IP as an individual at home or business? Getting a VPN is the answer. Tracking an IP address if you have an VPN is impossible to do. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and the reason it’s so popular is because using it hides your current IP address from any other third parties that could be interested in your IP details.
It also protects your online activity through encryption. While some Internet Service Providers (ISP) may be aware of you using a VPN, they’ll not be able to see your online activities. If you’re a business visiting another business’s website, your real IP won’t be visible to them and hence the business can’t target you in the future.