For the last five years, James and Theresa Arnold have been accused of hacking email accounts, stealing identities, committing tax fraud, harassing people, and stealing bitcoin. James was accused of “holding girls at the residence for the purpose of making pornographic films.” At one point, someone left a toilet in their driveway as some kind of strange, ambiguous threat.
The family was innocent and had no idea why this was happening until earlier this year when they discovered that the rural Kansas home they'd rented had been designated the geographical center of the United States by Boston-based IP address mapping company MaxMind.
For more than a decade, MaxMind has specialized in the business of determining where digital devices are physically located based on their IP addresses. Customers use this information to, for example, show someone a geographically relevant ad or track down a criminal. Sometimes MaxMind can pinpoint exactly where an IP address originates, but other times it's inexact. When it knows only that an IP address is somewhere in the United States, it returns a longitude and latitude that corresponds with a default location it chose in the middle of the U.S., which happens to be the Arnolds' front yard. As of April of this year, over 600 million IP addresses pointed there, and apparently, a good number of them had been used by computer users up to no good.
The Arnolds sued Maxmind in federal court last month, saying the company had "placed them in a false light and invaded their privacy,” resulting in “great emotional distress, fear for their safety, and humiliation.” The damages amounted to at least $75,000, making it a federal case, though their lawyer Randy Rathbun said they would ultimately ask for more.
This week, MaxMind responded to the Arnolds' legal complaint, moving to dismiss the lawsuit. MaxMind's lawyers have a number of reasons why they think the lawsuit should be dismissed but their big one is that the company isn't the one that harassed the Arnolds; rather it was all the people who used MaxMind's data to make erroneous assumptions about the property and the people who lived there.
"Even if the Court were to accept as true that Plaintiffs were emotionally injured, Plaintiffs were not harmed by the assignment of a default setting for an unknown IP addresses," write MaxMind's lawyers in their motion to dismiss. "The alleged emotional injury resulted instead from the conclusions drawn by third parties that the Plaintiffs location could be connected to illegal or immoral conduct."
In other words, 'it's not our fault for providing the data; the problem is how the data was used.' MaxMind infers that the Arnolds should instead go after the people who showed up at their house or wrote horrible things about them online.
MaxMind says it has no specific obligations to the Arnolds because it "has never transacted any business or entered into a contract with [them]" and shouldn't be sued in Kansas because it has no offices there. It also claims that the statute of limitations for civil suits, which is two years in Kansas according to its lawyers, has run out. MaxMind chose the farm as its default location for the U.S. in 2002, and the Arnolds first encountered problems in 2011. That, of course, ignores the fact that the Arnolds didn't know what was causing their problem until April 2016 when Fusion published an investigative report about it.
Randy Rathbun, the Arnolds' attorney, says he will challenge these claims in a legal response. He also said that the Arnolds' problems continue even though MaxMind changed the default location to a nearby lake a few months ago. The couple removed their mailbox so that people would stop coming to their house, but recently found a letter laying where the mailbox would be. It was from someone who said they were trying to track down a person whose computer geolocated to the home.