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Quova tracks mobile net users

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Mobile internet users can now prove their location to a website or remote network service, according to geolocation specialist Quova.

Quova has developed downloadable applets which enable a laptop or smartphone to locate itself, for example by picking up the MAC addresses of local Wi-Fi APs, or the cellular base-stations in the area.

The company's systems currently locate internet users based on data such as their IP address and domain. Retailers, banks, and others can use this to localise a website for that user or add credit risk-scoring, say, while broadcasters use it to check which services a visitor is eligible for.

Running the location applet will be optional, claimed Marie Alexander, Quova's CEO. She was at pains to point out that this is not about service providers invading privacy, but about subscribers verifying their location - for example, to gain access to services that are only available in certain areas.

"The BBC uses it not just to differentiate UK visitors [so they can download 'listen again' content], but also to route the user to the best server," she said. "It is also going to extreme lengths as it prepares to launch the BBC Worldwide site to ensure UK users are not exposed to the version with advertising."

Other uses for the technology include fraud detection, by checking whether an online shopper's location matches the address on their credit card records. If the locations differ, the retailer could flag the transaction as higher-risk and perhaps ask the would-be buyer for extra verification, she said.

The concepts are the same as those used by credit card companies today to watch for unusual spending patterns that might indicate fraud, but the signals they need to look for are rather different, she added.

"With cybercrime, the perpetrator tends to be in a different location to the victim, according to FBI and Interpol evidence," she explained. "It's not like someone stealing your card, and 10 minutes later they're trying to use it down the road.

"The complexity and context is important too - for example, the velocity of transactions, and does the type of purchase match the domain?"

She gave the example of an attempted fraud where a supplier received a number of official-looking orders for business-class IT gear, but when the location was checked they all turned out to come from public internet terminals at a 24-hour copy-shop.

Quova's systems and researchers locate IP addresses via a number of techniques, including both automated and manual methods of mapping ISP networks, Alexander added. However, some service providers cross national boundaries, such as T-Mobile, or users may connect through anonymising proxies, hence the need for an additional layer of location data. ®

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