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Kansas Couple Sues IP Mapping Firm For Turning Their Life Into a 'Digital Hell' ( 175

Ever since James and Theresa Arnold moved into their rented 623-acre farm in Butler County, Kansas, in March 2011, they have seen "countless" law enforcement officials and individuals turning up at their farm day and night looking for links to alleged theft and other supposed crime. We covered this story on Slashdot a few months ago. All of these people are arriving because of a rounding error on a GPS location, which wrongly points people to their farm. ArsTechnica adds:In their lawsuit filed against MaxMind, the IP mapping firm, the Arnolds allege: "The following events appeared to originate at the residence and brought trespassers and/or law enforcement to the plaintiffs' home at all hours of the night and day: stolen cars, fraud related to tax returns and bitcoin, stolen credit cards, suicide calls, private investigators, stolen social media accounts, fund raising events, and numerous other events." James Arnold has even been "reported as holding girls at the residence for the purpose of making pornographic films."
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Kansas Couple Sues IP Mapping Firm For Turning Their Life Into a 'Digital Hell'

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Plot twist: They are guilty of the accused and more, just hiding it underneath their 623 acres.

    • by Hasaf ( 3744357 )

      Well, plenty of people will say, "where theres smoke, theres fire."

      (of course, those people may be idiots)

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        If you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.

        • Re: Never Suspected (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Your absolutely right. Just make sure you set aside 4 to 12 hours per day, every day for the rest of your life to deal with law enforcement and courts. And just budget for potential 10s of thousands of dollars in court costs that no one will repay when you're found innocent of each accusation. And be sure to have every single second of your life accountable to provide explanations when investigated. And all those colleagues and neighbors and business partners who constantly regard you with suspicion ...

        • That is assuming that the system is sane.

          If the people that have power to alter your life don't believe you, then you are just as screwed.

    • by npslider ( 4555045 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @06:47PM (#52680601)

      The physical location of /dev/null

  • What asshole decided to hide the fact that the location isn't in the database?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not that the "location is not found", but that the location could only be generalized to being in the United States. The problem is, these people live in what's pretty much the center of the US and that is what this database returns.


      • So they truly live in the Middle of Nowhere?

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          Middle of Nowhere

          Actually, that would be Null Island [].

          It's strange that the default location is centered on the USA for a global coordinate system. At least 0.0, 0.0 is really out in the middle of nowhere.

          • On a grander scale, I'd say this place may be the ultimate middle of nowhere: A supervoid


          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            It's strange that the default location is centered on the USA for a global coordinate system. At least 0.0, 0.0 is really out in the middle of nowhere.

            It's not the default location. It's the default location for "USA". And it's not even the exact center of the US )it's a "cleaned up" version, aka an arbitrary spot close to, but not exactly at, the center). It would return 0,0 if it was unknown, but the IP address location was known - but only to the accuracy of the country.

            The real problem is it's returning

        • So they truly live in the Middle of Nowhere?

          If you define "The United States of America" as "Nowhere", yes.

          • I would say, as would many, that Kansas is very close to nowhere, maybe not the exact middle, but a close second.

            • When you see a billboard on I-70 which says, "Colby Kansas. Oasis of the Plains. 3 Hours Ahead." you know you're pretty much in nowhere.*

              *For you Europeans, 3 hours gets you to the next country. You're still in Kansas 3 hours later and have about another hour until you get to Colorado. That doesn't include the previous hours of driving to get to the sign. All in the same state.

              • Lol you know when you are in the middle of nowhere when you pass a sign that says in huge red letters "No Fuel for 500km" and then gives you 228km to the next intersection.


            • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @08:53PM (#52681339)

              kansas surely is at the point of know return. sort of a dust in the wind kind of state, if you will.

    • by npslider ( 4555045 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @05:46PM (#52680305)

      Maybe their address is 404 Error Drive?

    • by allo ( 1728082 )

      It's "location is the us" and would be like "center of us plus very big radius" and people just assume the center of the circle must be a good starting point, without looking at the radius.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @05:39PM (#52680251)

    Just goes to show that when computers make an error it gets multiplied millions of times over.

  • Let's hope Pokemon Go does not decide to add special edition characters to their barn!

  • by subk ( 551165 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @05:50PM (#52680329)
    When there is no record, they should return no result at all. If that is not an option, at least return an obviously bogus location like, gee, I dunno.. 0,0. Which happens to be in the middle of an ocean. Choosing an arbitrary spot in the country is just plain idiotic. I hope they have to fork out the max in punitive damages for being such morons.
    • The article said they move the "default" location to the middle of the lake. It may just take a while for everyone to get and apply the updates.

      • I wonder if, going forward, law enforcement agencies will start spending millions of dollars regularly dredging that lake...

      • by plopez ( 54068 )

        eventually it will be consistent.

      • I read that and thought, "Next, we'll hear of some hapless rural officer dying in a lake.". At the very least, I could see the local law enforcement suing for all the times it went out on that lake in a boat to get to that spot or all the calls flooding in from other LE groups to go there. They can't win.
    • by 0dugo0 ( 735093 )

      Yeah, like how they now they default to my yacht in the Cheney Reservoir.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This isn't no record. It is "somewhere in the United States". Personally, I like there idea of not putting a bunch of significant digits on the center. Also, I check three IP addresses (my work, my home and an old home). All where significantly wrong. Anyone using this data base as if it was accurate is clearly an idiot. BTW, it said the error on my location was "5". No units. Two were off by about a mile (which in a city is huge) and the other listed the center of the downtown unit for where I wor
    • Re:Null means Null (Score:4, Informative)

      by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @06:36PM (#52680533)

      Null means null, and a location means a location. There's no point returning null as actual data is known, in this case the USA.

      As was covered previously the system that returns the data also returns the accuracy of that data. It was ultimately the end users of the database who decided to implement a simple GPS co-ordinate without the associated accuracy data. Why trash the database is programmers are too stupid to use it?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by subk ( 551165 )
        They still should not be returning coordinates if the location is unknown. We wouldn't be having this discussion--and there would be no lawsuit to worry about--if the database said "Sorry. I don't know where that is. But if you kindly look to the Country record, you will see that it is in an IP block used in USA"
        • Re:Null means Null (Score:5, Informative)

          by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @07:30PM (#52680879) Homepage Journal

          They still should not be returning coordinates if the location is unknown.

          But the location is known. The known location may not be sufficiently precise for some applications, but that's something only the application developer knows. For some applications, knowing the location is in the US, as opposed to Belgium, or China, or Tahiti, is good and useful information. These applications would be shortchanged if the API just said "no location found" when in fact the database *has* a location, an accurate one, just not a very precise one.

          • They still should not be returning coordinates if the location is unknown.

            But the location is known.

            You could say the same thing for a result that returns "Earth, somewhere..." instead of saying it for "United States, somewhere".

            If the location cannot be narrowed down further than half a continent, then the location is most definitely not known.

        • by DRJlaw ( 946416 )

          They still should not be returning coordinates if the location is unknown.

          Society, having implemented subk's dictat, promptly collapsed. For Professor Heisenberg had already proved that it was impossible to be certain of an object's location, and subk had decided that the concept of precision simply required too much thought. Freight service everywhere simply stopped, as the pickup and delivery locations for any item were decidedly "unknown."

        • The location is known. The location is somewhere in the USA so the software rightfully returns the GPS co-ordinates for the centre of the USA and error margin that covers the entire country.

    • But that would be wrong. There is a location and they're as close to it as they can be. It is somewhere in the lower-48 US, so they return a rough centre and a radius that encompasses the region the address is in.

      There are a lot of these that go to a geographic centre of a city or state as well, as that is the best accuracy they can provide.

      All legitimate uses of their data (I have used it on a few projects.) would not be negatively affected by this lack of exact precision. The people at fault are those tha

  • Law enforcement actually shows up and looks for stolen property??? I have been watching my stolen tablet on device manager for two days and I can't get the local police to do more than offer to forward me to the number to file a police report. I may need to think about moving to Kansas....

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @06:02PM (#52680393)

      Law enforcement actually shows up and looks for stolen property??? I have been watching my stolen tablet on device manager for two days and I can't get the local police to do more than offer to forward me to the number to file a police report. I may need to think about moving to Kansas....

      They were told the family had a dog. Therefore, they showed up in order to shoot it.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      Your tablet has a value under 500. It is not owned by anyone important. It is unlikely to make news. It does not generate revenue or appreciably add to any other metrics they care about.

      This is why "To Protect and Serve" is nor more like "To Collect and Harass"

  • They may have been using the original Pentium processor when they designed it. But I can see how that would leave a chip on anyone's shoulder.

    If they are going to sue, sue someone with deeper pockets!

  • Not a rounding error (Score:5, Informative)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @06:12PM (#52680443)

    It's not even remotely a "rounding error".

    According to the TFA, the geographic center of the US is located at (39.8333333,-98.585522). In 2002, MaxMind "decided to clean up the measurements and go with a simpler, nearby latitude and longitude: 38N 97W or 38.0000,-97.0000" - an arbitrary decision that, given the values picked, is pretty much the opposite of a rounding error.

    (Sorry for the lack of degree and minute symbols, but blame Slashdot for that)

  • It's not the mapping firm's issue that the end users of the database don't take into account to associated accuracy data.

    Also we covered it previously, and we got it right previously. Why do we claim the problem is a "rounding error" now? Just because Ars don't know what they're talking about?

  • by epine ( 68316 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @06:44PM (#52680579)

    MaxMind didn't send all those yokels off on spurious missions. Are you your brother's keeper?

    It's not a simple legal argument, here. You have to argue that MaxMind should have had a reasonable expectation that yokels will be yokels.

    The next step in the argument, it seems to me (I don't give a shit that IANAL), is to claim that enabling yokels to be yokels is an explicit element of the MaxMind value chain, from which MaxMind extracted all kinds of proceeds.

    Then it could be argued that this was such an integral element of their value chain as to have induced them into invented a "not found" representation which masqueraded as a valid search result, so as to deliberately create a superficial impression that "not found" results hardly ever happen. That would be the strong condition, but hardest to establish. MaxMind will counter that this was a merely a technical felicity, and that it's no crime to be lazy.

    In the strong condition, I see it as absolutely the case that MaxMind sought gains from negligent asshattery.

    I also think there's a good chance this case can't demonstrate the strong condition, and only a modest chance they obtain damages from the mild condition.

    If MaxMind has a moral backbone, they'll settle out of court for a conscionable amount, unless the aggrieved are in full-on casino mode.

    The aggrieved definitely deserve compensation here, but if they have to collect directly from the yokels who caused the disturbances, good luck with that.

    • Hmm, so the "yokels" include law enforcement up to and including Federal officers, who show up with guns and SWAT teams planning on confronting armed and dangerous criminals. What could possibly go wrong? It's not like a mistake could lead to someone's home being invaded by police who shoot first and make up excuses later. Cops never ever get the wrong house and have a confrontation with the residents where an innocent person is killed. This has never happened, thank god.

      Nice to know that providing provabl

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The whole case will hinge on the fact that MaxMind changed the default "centre of the US" coordinates from the actual centre to the coordinates of their farm, in some kind of strange "rounding" scheme that has no apparent mathematical basis.

      If they had just used the centre, they could say it was an accident and the court would probably accept it. Because they chose coordinates without bothering to check if they were suitable or considering the consequences, they made themselves liable for some of the stuff

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @09:27PM (#52681495)

    This is IP Address geolocation we're talking about here.

    More often than not it gets the State and City wrong.

    There's not a chance in hell of IP Address geolocation giving a reliable location down to the street address or location level.

    So WTF would Law enforcement be showing up based on Maxmind results?

    • my guess is that some self-appointed white knight found something disturbing on a porn site he "happened to stumble upon", and then took it upon himself to Sherlock his way, through whois and google maps, into thinking that these girls were being held at the physical location associated with the porn site through multiple cross-referenced databases.

      this sounds insane, and it is, but people really are like that [] and always have been. everyone is looking to right someone else's wrong and be a hero, often becau

  • I believe it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2016 @10:37PM (#52681831)

    I work in mapping (GIS: Geographic Information Systems) and I see the same thing on a disturbingly regular basis (though at much smaller scales). People see a line/point on a map and they instantly assume that it is some perfectly resolved/certified/verified point. Even explaining to them that it is just a best guess often draws a blank stare. Specifically one of the things we map in our office are property lines, but as most of the information is based on aerial photos (with a accuracy variance of 3' 90% of the time), guesses of section corners (0.5-40' real world accuracy), descriptions that can be either 170 years old, improperly described, or accurate to within a 1/16 of an inch and you get some pretty severe variance in accuracy from description to description. You can tell people that the boundaries are only guesses (and take 10 minutes explaining all of the ways it could be off) and their neighbors will still sometimes come in a few weeks later complaining that they were waiving around the printout like it was a certified document. In this case I do find it a bit odd that they didn't code the point it a little differently, giving a "somewhere in this country" a specific GPS coordinate is a little odd. If it was a system I was setting up it would have either left the GPS coordinates as Null values with a secondary field the region (United States, Canada, Ohio, etc) or gave it a GPS coordinate near the center of the perceived region with a map scale code that suggested it was only accurate to within a country (1:2,000,000)

    • by VAXcat ( 674775 )
      It's like they tell you when you're learning navigation when studying to be a pilot. A new navigator with no experience, when trying to determine his location will do his calculations and draw a pinpoint on the map indicating the location. One with slightly more experience will draw a little circle around the point, allowing for some error. An experienced navigator will put his whole hand down on the map at the calculated point and say "We're somewhere around here".

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling