Monday, August 22, 2016

First world problems

A small farmhouse in central Kansas, occupied by tenants, was a hotbed of a digital age horror story.

"... the little house in the center of the country became the crossroads of the Internet, with unimaginable consequences ..."

The first hint occurred in 2011 when the home's owner received a call from a small business owner in Connecticut who angrily blamed her for his customers' email problems.

In May 2011, law enforcement officers knocked on the door, looking for a stolen truck.

Over the next five years, officers would show up to rescue potential suicidal persons, or accusing the tenants of harboring runaway children or keeping girls in the house to make pornographic films.  FBI agents, federal marshals, and IRS collectors have all appeared on their doorstep. So have angry Internet users.

At least once, hackers posted the tenants' names and personal details across the Internet.

One day, a broken toilet was left in the driveway without explanation.

Neither the tenants nor the owner had any idea what was happening.

What actually happened -- in 2002, a company called MaxMind was founded to map IP addresses. Many could not be directly linked to a physical address, only a state or sometimes only a country.

Many times, MaxMind could only determine that an IP address was in the U.S.  In those cases, the company mapped that address to 38°N 97°W, the rounded-off coordinates of the geographic center of the U.S.

Which just happens to be the front yard of the small farmhouse in Kansas.

More than 600 million IP addresses were mapped to that yard.

After this "problem" was discovered, MaxMind shifted its default United States location to the center of a lake, west of Wichita Kansas.

That wasn't quite enough for the tenants, though, who filed a lawsuit seeking compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, plus their costs.

I wish them much success in that lawsuit.
Digital age horror story


  1. What a crazy story. They deserve indemnation.

    I love reading these quirky stories and crazy laws you post.

  2. Ugh, those poor tenants. You'd think MaxMind would have checked to see where that location was before posting it!

    1. You'd think that's what a normal company would do, but I guess back then, no tech company could be considered normal. I wonder if there'd be any structure at the geographic center of Australia [if this would have happened there].

    2. Not a chance. The middle of Australia is actually referred to as the "dead centre" because there is little there - it's arid desert. I think our geographic middle is about 200km south of the township of Alice Springs. We have a big country but we live on the coasts (you can see the small dot for Alice Springs near the centre):