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EU – IP Addresses Regarded as Personal Information

Posted: 22nd Jan, 2008 By: MarkJ
Every time you connect to the Internet an IP (Internet Protocol) address is assigned to you, which under current IPv4 standards typically takes the form of four number groupings (e.g. 123.23.56.98). This is your unique numerical identifier and allows you to communicate with other online servers and services, such as e-mail or websites.

Though most would already regard IP’s as being "personal information", Google and other organisations prefer to define them as identifying the location of a computer, not the individual user. Consequently search engines have more control over the information they can store. Due to this the European Union's (EU) data privacy regulators are now considering whether or not to legally classify IP's as personal information.

Typically there are many complexities involved as IP addresses can be attached to both humans using computers and computers (e.g. servers) by themselves. Likewise very few Internet users have a static IP while the majority use dynamic ones that change each time you re-connect to the Internet. Not to mention that many different people can use a single IP.

Google claims that knowing your IP address allows it to better tailor its search results to you, such as being able to identify your country and probable language from the number. Likewise IP addresses are often used to track visitor information to websites or advertising, a standard practice used by most sites to better track who is viewing their content and understand the market metrics involved.

Presently the EU’s data regulators are preparing a full report on the subject, which for better or worse could have far reaching implications for Internet access and the services we all use online.
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