Earlier this year came the weird story about how apps that track lost smartphones keep pointing to one particular house near Atlanta. Now reporter Kashmir Hill of Fusion has followed up with a fascinating account of how a quiet family farm in remote Kansas has been tormented for years by law enforcement officials and online vigilantes who are convinced the farm is home to all kinds of evil deeds. The reason? It turns out a company called MaxMind that provides IP addresses uses a default latitude and longitude of 38°N 97°W for addresses it can't identify. And as Hill writes, that spot just "happens to be in the front yard of Joyce Taylor’s house." Taylor is 82, and she rents out the property now. But until Hill called, she had no idea why angry people have been calling and even visiting.
It seems they were convinced she was the scammer who scammed them or some other kind of cyberthief, or perhaps even a suicidal person who'd reached out to a help line. "That poor woman has been harassed for years," says the local sheriff, who has posted a sign by the driveway telling people to stay away and to contact his office with questions. The good news is that there may be a happy ending: MaxMind also was unaware of the problem it had inadvertently caused until Hill called, and its co-founder says the company will change the default address. Plenty of other "phantom IP houses" with similar problems exist, with Hill noting that "the physical mapping of computer addresses is one of the many aspects of the internet infrastructure that is almost completely unregulated." Click to read her full account. (Read more IP address stories.)