Geolocation is the identification or estimation of the real-world geographic location of an object, such as a radar source, mobile phone, or Internet-connected computer terminal. In its simplest form geolocation involves the generation of a set of geographic coordinates and is closely related to the use of positioning systems, but its usefulness is enhanced by the use of these coordinates to determine a meaningful location, such as a street address.
For either geolocating or positioning, the locating engine often uses radio frequency (RF) location methods, for example Time Difference Of Arrival (TDOA) for precision. TDOA systems often use mapping displays or other geographic information system. When a GPS signal is unavailable, geolocation applications can use information from cell towers to triangulate the approximate position, a method that is not as accurate as GPS but has greatly improved in recent years. This is in contrast to earlier radiolocation technologies, for example Direction Finding where a line of bearing to a transmitter is achieved as part of the process.
Internet and computer geolocation can be performed by associating a geographic location with the Internet Protocol (IP) address, MAC address, RFID, hardware embedded article/production number, embedded software number (such as UUID, Exif/IPTC/XMP or modern steganography), invoice, Wi-Fi positioning system, device fingerprint, canvas fingerprinting or device GPS coordinates, or other, perhaps self-disclosed information. Geolocation usually works by automatically looking up an IP address on a WHOIS service and retrieving the registrant’s physical address.