A family in Pretoria was falsely accused of abducting children, stealing Apple products, and hiding fugitives after the US government placed a geo-location pin in their back-yard, technology website Gizmodo reported.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), mandated to map points of socio-political interest for the US defence and intelligence community, logged a family house in an unnamed suburb as the default location for Pretoria in the early 2000s.
This caused the digital-mapping website MaxMind, which maps IP (internet protocol) addresses to physical locations for "find my phone" and advertising services, to pinpoint over one million IP addresses to the family's backyard.
An IP address is a unique code assigned to each Internet-connected device, and can easily be used to determine the geographic region where the IP address is registered, Business Insider previously reported.
However, for more accurate locations, the internet provider is often required to disclose customer details.
Hundreds of people – including the South African Police Service and Hawks – showed up at the Pretoria house since 2013, accusing the inhabitants (a South African mother and son, identified only as John and Ann) of all kinds of serious crimes, including abduction and theft.
In one incident a US State Department official interrogated the family over an alleged fugitive hiding in their house, Gizmodo reported.
The issue was resolved when the NGA moved the geolocation pin to the statue of Paul Kruger in Church Square in the Pretoria city centre, well away from any homes or offices.
This is not the first time MaxMind incorrectly sent police to someone’s home.
In 2016, the Guardian reported that a family in the US state of Kansas sued the company $75,000 in damages when MaxMind attributed over 600 million IP addresses to their farm which led to several police investigations into the family.
The matter was settled outside of court.
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