Internet Mapping Glitch Wreaks Havoc on Kansas Farm

MaxMind, a digital mapping company, has an algorithm that can pinpoint many IP addresses, in case someone needs to find out geographically where a certain computer (or computer user) is, usually in cases of hacking, scams, or abuse. It doesn’t always pinpoint, so in cases where the closest you can narrow an address down is a state or country, the mapping app will point to the geographic center of that state or country. The geographical center of the United States is in northern Kansas, specifically at the digital latitude of 39.8333333,-98.585522. In 2002, MaxMind simplified that to 38.0000,-97.0000. The problem is that people actually live at that location. And six million hard-to-locate IP addresses will show up at the default location, the front yard of a 360-acre farm owned by Joyce Taylor.

For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They’ve been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They’ve gotten visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They’ve found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.

All in all, the residents of the Taylor property have been treated like criminals for a decade. And until I called them this week, they had no idea why.

Tech writer Kashmir Hill had encountered several stories about houses where stolen phones always seem to be located (but aren’t) and decided to look at default IP address locations, which is how she found Taylor’s farm. The 14 years of harassment is no longer a mystery, but it’s been a tough road for Taylor and the other people who’ve lived there. Read about the saga of the U.S. default IP address at Fusion. 

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