Did Facebook just say you’re ‘near Camden’? Here’s why.

Is Facebook just trying to agitate the good people of Philadelphia? 

There are many ways to rankle Philadelphians. In addition to bad-mouthing the Phillies and pointing out the city’s trash-littered streets, one way to really get under a Philadelphian’s skin is to refer to their home city as “near Camden.”

While it’s geographically correct, many Philadelphians are happy to forget about the impoverished city just over the Ben Franklin Bridge. Or, on a more hopeful note, perhaps many Philadelphians feel such deep rooted civic pride about their home that identifying it as “near” anything else feels like a slight.

Facebook is doing just that — identifying many posts from Philadelphia as “near Camden.” So, why is this happening? Is Facebook just trying to agitate the good people of the Italian Market and Old City?

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Let’s get technical

A little sleuthing turned up more logical answers. It seems GPS works by triangulating and approximating a user’s location. For Google Maps, this is done very specifically. Other applications (like setting your time zone or geotagging photos or posts) may use a larger area to approximate your location.

Tom Boutell, who creates open-source web tools at Philadelphia design firm P’unk Ave, said that when people post from a mobile device and have given the Facebook app permission to use geolocation, the location is generally pretty accurate.

“But yes, when you post from a desktop computer in Philadelphia, it is often ‘near Camden.’ This is because Facebook really doesn’t have much to go on, other than your IP address, a temporary address assigned to your computer while it is connected to the Internet.”

Boutell said there are services that map IP addresses to locations on Earth but he said the best they can really do is say that an Internet service provider, like Comcast, has a data center in a particular city, or near that city.

“And since IP addresses get moved around, it’s a very inexact science,” Boutell said.

An inexact science

As an example, he said if you try a Google search for “IP address geolocation” from your desktop computer, you’ll get a variety of sites that all show off their ability to tell you where you are, based on your IP address. He pointed out that you’ll get many different results.

P’unk Ave has Comcast at their office in South Philly, and Boutell gets results from three different sites saying he’s located in Philadelphia; Wilmington, Del.; and Mount Laurel, N.J.

Boutell said this is the sort of vague information that produces Facebook’s strange tags.

Unhappy with your current posts being tagged “near Camden”? Boutell pointed out if you really want Facebook to know where you’re posting from, you can click “add a location to post” when entering your status.

Of course in this digital age he suggested that it’s kind of nice to know Facebook doesn’t know everything about us.

“Just almost everything,” he said.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal