Major League Baseball Knows Where You Live!

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-06-28 Print this article Print

Bud Selig thinks he knows where you are surfing from, but he's got a lot of bad data. Physical location detection on the Internet is still unreliable; that's a good thing, right?

It was the Simpsons who first broke the story: Major League Baseball was spying on Barts thoughts with a special satellite that he shot down, only to have Mark McGwire come and hush the whole thing up. But subscribers to Major League Baseballs MLB.TV service may be surprised to hear what the big leagues are learning about them, or at least trying to learn: their physical location. MLB.TV is a series of subscription services that allow users to view almost any Major League Baseball game live, broadcast over the Internet using Windows Media or Real streaming video technology. Viewers see one of the teams home broadcasts with that teams announcers. Afterwards, games are available in an archive and in a condensed format that has only the action in the game. (Im a subscriber and its generally a very cool service that I would recommend, especially if you live out of the TV coverage area for your team.)

Because TV networks buy the rights to these broadcasts in their viewing areas, MLB.TV enforces local blackout rules. In other words, if you live in the New York area you may not be able to watch a Mets game on MLB.TV because Channel 11 (WPIX) may be broadcasting it. MLB.TVs blackout rules provide specific lists of ZIP codes for each team in which computer users will be blacked out.

Wait a minute! How do they know what ZIP code your computer is in? Have they installed a secret homing beacon in the computer? Have they scanned your files for your home address? Are they reading your brain waves, as they did to Bart?

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog. Perhaps the location they use is just based on the one on your credit card or some other records you produce? No, MLB.TV customer service insists its based on the IP address of the computer you are using. Since there is no "ZIP Code" field in the IP packet format, I was curious about what technique they are using to determine physical location based on network address.

Next Page: Accuracys an issue.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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