This company made a decision in 2002 that's making life miserable for an 82-year-old woman and her Kansas farm

Small house farmhouseFlickr / gemteck1(Not the actual farm in question.)

Back in 2002, a company called MaxMind had an idea: Gather up as many unique computer or smartphone IP addresses as they can, match them to a map, and sell that data to advertisers.

The problem, as Fusion’s Kashmir Hill reports, is that MaxMind’s tech has made life miserable for a handful of homes across the US — especially one otherwise unnoteworthy northern Kansas farm.

The farm’s 82-year-old owner, Joyce Taylor, and her tenants have been subject to FBI visits, IRS collectors, ambulences, threats, and the release of private information online, she told Fusion.

They have found people rummaging in the farm’s barn, and one person even left a broken toilet for some reason. People would even post her details online and encourage others to get in on the harassment. The local sherriff even had to put a sign on her driveway, telling trespassers to stay away and contact him first if there are any questions.

The full story is long, complicated and worthwhile, but here’s the short version:

Back in 2002, when it started in this business, MaxMind decided that any IP address in the United States that it couldn’t provide a detailed location for, it would instead return a default set of coordinates very near the geographic center of the country — coorindates that happen to coincide with Taylor’s front yard.

MaxMind sells the data it gathers on where, geographically, any connected device is located based on its unique IP address. Advertisers and law enforcement alike use this data to target ads or track cybercriminals.

And even though MaxMind’s data was never meant to locate individual homes, lots of people use it this way. Would-be internet vigilantes use MaxMind’s data to identify alleged fraudsters, get petty vengenace for internet arguments, or call ambulances on people threatening suicide or violence on public forums. Even law enforcement has used this information to try to track fraudsters, against MaxMind’s own warnings.

Maxmind homepageMaxMindMaxMind’s homepage, with its services for sale.

With over 600 million IP addresses that show up as belonging to this one address, Fusion reports, the odds that someone accidentally gets routed there is high. And starting in 2011, per that Fusion report, people have been calling and even showing up at Joyce Taylor’s doorstep, convinced that she or her tenants are behind all kinds of no-good internet dealings.

Other homes, in Atlanta and Virgina, both have similar issues with being the regional default location for MaxMind’s IP address mapping, Fusion reports.

“Until you reached out to us, we were unaware that there were issues with how we selected these lat/lons,” MaxMind cofounder Thomas Mather told Fusion. “We do take this issue seriously and are working to resolve it as quickly as possible.”

MaxMind did not immediately respond to a request for comment. You can read Fusion’s full report, including lots more detail, here.

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