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The Computer Corner

REG COMPUTERS

Geofencing:  the Reason You Can’t Watch Game of Thrones from México

By Charles Miller

Geofencing is a capability that can be built into a software program that uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) and/or other means to define geographical boundaries. This subject recently came up in a conversation with my friend Robert, who was preparing to watch the big football game via the Internet, even though by watching from México, he was violating the broadcast network’s terms of service. His story will perhaps be a familiar one to many folks here who attempt to access a streaming service or website in order to watch sporting events or a movie or television series.

Robert tried to use his Virtual Private Network (VPN) to prevent the television network from knowing he was in México and thereby blocking his access to the game. I warned him that trying to use a VPN to obfuscate his IP address was not guaranteed to be successful.

Software programs with geofencing are set up so that when a device crosses one of the boundaries defined by the virtual “fence,” that triggers some action. In Robert’s case, even though he might use able to using a VPN making his IP address appear to be in the US, the app he is using to watch the game online knows that the current coordinates of his iPad are 20°54′51″N 100°44′37″W, which is outside the borders of the US. Busted!

When Robert tried to use his laptop, which has no GPS built in, the app told him, “Before you may watch, we need to send an access code to your cell phone,” which of course, would tell them the phone’s geographic location, give or take half a kilometer. Busted again!

Robert even tried sending the code to a friend’s cell phone in the US and having them read it to him. But when he entered the code into his laptop in México, he was told, “We cannot locate the laptop but we can tell from the Internet latency that it is more than 1,000 kilometers away from the cell phone.” Busted yet again!

Geofencing has a few possible upsides: school systems can use it to set off an alarm if the student iPads leave the school grounds. Parents can use it to keep track of their kids, and law enforcement already uses it on ankle bracelets to track people under house arrest. Pet owners are likely to jump on this idea as well.

I suppose the benefits of geofencing depend on who is benefiting. Robert did not like it when geofencing prevented him being watching the big game. On the other hand, the broadcast network might look at the same situation differently because geofencing helps them adhere to licensing restrictions.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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