Every computer, every smartphone, and even many devices like refrigerators, cars, and ATMs have an Internet Protocol address. These IP addresses can be static or dynamic, which means they either permanently or temporarily correspond to an actual device somewhere in the world.
Each time you get on the Internet using your laptop, desktop, or mobile phone, you have an IP address that websites and companies can use to track your location. They then use your location to target advertising, sell you goods, or gather data.
Cookies also can track your travels on the Internet. But IP addresses are different than cookies. Cookies are small files placed on your computer. You can often disable cookies in your computer, but you can not disable your IP address — you always need an IP address.
However, you can change your IP address so that it appears your computer is in a different location. For example, if you are sitting in Seattle, all the websites you visit know you are in Seattle, and they can sometimes even figure out the specific building, floor, and room you are sitting in based on the information they have. But if you use a VPN or a great service like TOR, you can either obfuscate or change your IP address, so it appears like you are sitting instead in London, Shanghai, Paris, or Oslo.
Changing your IP address alone does not keep your information private or secret. Instead, it merely makes it more difficult for websites to understand who you are and from where you are contacting them. You can check your IP address and geolocation here.
The best way to remain private online is via a VPN that not only changes your IP address, but also encrypts your data online.