On a computer network, much like in real life, there are different levels of access dependent on a variety of reasons. It may be due rights assigned to username or account, perhaps an access token or often simply your physical location. These rights are assigned in different ways but the most popular method across the internet is based on your IP address.
The IP address is that unique number which is assigned to every single device which is connected to the internet, from computers and laptops to phones and tablets and even your internet enabled fridge. Every single device that is accessible online has a unique IP address and can be tracked by this number. Although you IP address can ultimately be traced back to a specific location and owner, this information is not available to any website that it visits. However even without access to an ISP record the IP address can be used to determine two pieces of information very easily – classification and location.
The first classification refers to the type of connection the IP address is registered to specifically residential or commercial. This piece of information is not always used as there can be some overlaps with this classification. The physical location however is used extensively by the vast majority of major web sites. Some may use it to help serve relevant content, perhaps supplying specific language versions depending on your location or serving up adverts which are more applicable to you. This is usually helpful although it can be very annoying if you are genuinely trying to access different content.
The most common use though is to block access based on this location, a practice used by virtually every large media site on the web. If you are in the USA for example, you will not be able to watch any of the UK media sites such as the BBC iPlayer or ITV Hub. Similarly every single one of the big American media sites will block non-US addresses. These blocks and controls are growing exponentially every year for instance there are now thousands of YouTube videos only accessible to specific locations.
Fortunately for the enlightened it isn’t such a big problem, because using VPNs and proxies you can actually control your own IP address. A simple method of using a British VPN server can give you access to the BBC iPlayer in the USA like this. It merely hides your physical location and instead the web site sees only the address of the VPN and it works with the vast majority of web sites.