IP Geolocation Can Help Prevent Fraud: Q&A with Kate Owen, Digital Element

In a mobile-driven world, users want to have shopping experiences that are relevant and targeted. IP geolocation technology is the technology that makes personalised shopping experiences on-the-go possible. Talking exclusively to ExchangeWire, Kate Owen (pictured below), VP Northern Europe, Digital Element, talks about the benefits of IP geolocation technology for advertising and as a tool to battle payment fraud.

ExchangeWire: What are the benefits of IP geolocation technology for advertising?

Kate Owen: IP geolocation technology is ubiquitous to digital advertising – if you didn’t have it, you would be bombarded with ads from anywhere and everywhere.

Obviously, the more granular you go, the more interesting it gets. IP geolocation has been proven to increase engagement and conversions, and allows advertisers to be clever with dynamic ads – for example, based on local events, weather conditions, tastes, and trends. By improving relevance for the consumer, brands can provide an improved user experience and, thus, see a better return on investment.

How granular can IP geotargeting actually go – and where will it end?

In terms of radius, it’s possible to achieve a precision of around five to eight kilometres from where the user is connecting to the public internet – i.e. the nearby node. Although all technologies seem to be trying to get as granular as possible, with IP geotargeting the user remains anonymous.

As for where the technology is going in the future – it’s much more about understanding the context of a user or situation, rather than getting closer to or identifying the individual. There are other types of advertising technologies that can do that – but only where the user has explicitly given their permission to be marketed to in that way.


How do you deal with the mobility of the user when determining location data? Is this data collected quickly enough to have immediate targeting impact with a high level of relevance?

This is a common query. In fact, a dynamic IP address or a constantly changing user location has no negative impact on the geolocation lookup. We are not gathering user data or tracking individuals in any way. The user is connecting to the internet via a fixed point, and although they may move around, each new fixed connection point has a known location in our databases.

Kate Owen, VP Northern Europe, Digital Element

We are of course talking here about fixed connections, i.e. WiFi or other wired connectivity, and not data (cell tower) connections. Most mobile traffic is still generated on WiFi, rather than 3G/4G. For the rest, it’s possible to detect other useful information, such as carrier data and connection type and speed. For instance, users with a high-speed connection may be served a video ad while a consumer on a slower connection may see a static display ad.

How does IP fraud impact geolocation technology, though?

Actually, it's the other way around: IP geolocation can help to prevent payment fraud. One of the methods by which fraudsters disguise their identity is through the use of proxied IP addresses that mask their location. If you are able to recognise this, and also identify the type of proxy that’s in use, you can differentiate between innocent use – for example, a corporate VPN to connect to the internet – and more suspicious activity.

It's very important to do this right and not go overboard with sweeping proxy classifications – there is a need for precision and high accuracy to help avoid false positives, ultimately penalising genuine users and risking damage to customer loyalty.

Are legal frameworks such as GDPR and ePrivacy going to have an impact on deploying IP geolocation technology?

All companies operating in digital advertising need to examine the way in which they gather, store, and work with personal data.

Since IP addresses change frequently (especially with dynamic IP address allocation), it already makes no sense to save or associate an IP address with any more concrete personal data; the location and/or other attributes of the IP address are relevant at the time of the query only. GDPR and ePrivacy initiatives are there to defend the consumer’s right to own the data that’s being gathered about them, which is hugely important. What's difficult is how to regulate this in the right way, so you don't have the unintended consequence of all digital advertising suddenly becoming totally irrelevant. Personally, I believe the 'how' is still clunky at present; but I have hope that it will continue to be refined in the coming years. It’s going to be a difficult, and in some cases costly, process for digital operators to go through, but certainly valuable and necessary in the long term for the entire industry.

What is your experience of gender diversity in an industry dominated by men?

Personally speaking, I have been very fortunate in the 17 years I've been in this industry and have hardly ever experienced career disadvantage because of my gender. There was one lost job opportunity because the employer was concerned I might get pregnant soon, purely because of assumptions made due to my age and marital status. In terms of actual sleaziness in the workplace – thankfully this has passed me by.

However, I have to say, I am hugely frustrated with otherwise professionally organised conferences throughout Europe where some (certainly not all) sponsors and exhibitors still hire sexy young girls in skin-tight outfits to promote their stands and hand out literature. At least 30-40% of delegates are female these days – a proportion which is increasing, and that’s great news – so I can’t understand why marketing managers continue to use this strategy. They’re insulting the intelligence of their target audience, both male and female. It really is time for the industry to grow up in this regard.