This Farm In Kansas Is The Default Address For All American Internet Users

Image courtesy of Adam Fagen

The geographic center of the United States, as all elementary school students know, is in Kansas. When some services that map a device’s Internet Protocol address don’t know where someone using a website is located, they point to the front yard of a farm in Kansas. The octogenarian owner and her tenants had no idea until recently why they were being harassed.

Following up on a recent story about a couple who regularly find strangers at their door looking for missing smartphones, Fusion’s Kashmir Hill decided to look for more people who might have similar problems. It turns out that there are quite a few, but the farm is the worst of them all.

The farm is a few hours’ drive from the point that’s the exact geographic center of the United States. Early last decade, a company called MaxMind was laying the foundation for what would become a location database for IP addresses. When their database doesn’t know where a user’s IP address is, it returns a latitude and longitude near the center of the country. They rounded the actual address, 39.8333333,-98.585522, to something shorter. Unfortunately, that nice and even address, 38.0000,-97.0000, is precisely in the farm’s front lawn.

“At that time, we picked a latitude and longitude that was in the center of the country, and it didn’t occur to us that people would use the database to attempt to locate people down to a household level,” the company’s founder explained to Hill. “We have always advertised the database as determining the location down to a city or zip code level.” Instead, people read the “somewhere in the United States” address as “at this address in Kansas.”

600 million IP addresses point directly at their address, and it has led to everyone from ambulances to IRS agents on the property, looking for people who definitely don’t live there. For years, the owner and tenants have dealt with having their personal information released online, angry phone calls, and even a toilet dumped in the lawn.

“Our deputies have been told this is an ongoing issue and the people who live there are nice, non-suicidal people,” the county sheriff said. The situation could become even worse if a nice person who were ill or even who had suicidal ideation moved in someday. First responders might not bother to come if the person’s friends or family contacted them if they know the history of the house.

The good news is that now MaxMind knows about the effect their error has had on the people who live in the house, and they’ve changed the default point for the United States to the middle of a lake. It might take a while for that update to roll out to all of their clients, though.

How an internet mapping glitch turned a random Kansas farm into a digital hell [Fusion]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.