tisdag 16 april 2019

How a poorly chosen default value got a farm in trouble

Null Island
Have you heard about Null Island?
You find it southwest of Africa at the coordinates 0,0.

The thing is though, that there is no real island, only a buoy. Null Island is used to find geocoding errors, when finding a position for something fails and the coordinates become (null, null) or (0,0), Null Island is there as a default place for unmappable values.

A story of a poorly chosen default value
If you don't reflect about what default values you use, people can get in trouble, as in this true story.

In short, this is what happened:
  • A company in USA offers a service where you can enter an IP-address and the service responds with a geolocation where the computer is located.
  • When the mapping of a IP-address to a location fails, the company used the middle of USA as a default value.
  • Lots of IP-addresses can't be mapped correctly and are therefore mapped to the default value.
  • People, companies and the police are trying to find people through this service.
    Why trying to find someone via an IP-address? Suppose someone has used a computer to scam or threaten you, or used it for some other shady behaviour.
  • The default value points to a lone farm. A farm that suddenly receives angry phone calls, visits by strangers and the police. The people living at the farm has no clue to why this happens...
The company that offered the service eventually became aware of the problems of the farm and changed the default value to point to the middle of a body of water instead.