The race for anonymity: Torrent Style

Worldwide, there is increasing pressure on filesharing networks and the people that use them. Even so, the adoption of new technologies like bittorrent is continuing to grow. In developed nations like the U.S. and United Kingdom, file-sharing has taken a hit, but globally it is still growing. And fast.

Filesharing in the U.S.

Bittorrent allows massive files to be distributed extremely quickly and efficiently because all participants in the ‘Swarm‘ contribute to the available upstream bandwidth. As a result, it has become the go-to technology for sharing large files (such as video files) which are often well over 1GB in size. Even companies like facebook now use bittorrent technology to transmit data more efficiently.

At one time, Bittorrent made up over 25% of bandwidth in the U.S. These numbers have fallen, however, due in large part to the increasing pressure on ISP’s to curb file-sharing. This has prompted increased debate on ‘Net-Neutrality’ regarding what roles internet gateways (Internet Service Providers) should play in censoring access to controversial or potentially infringing content, files, or material.

This push has been assisted (and funded) in a massive way by lobbying groups such as the RIAA, and MPAA, who’s traditional business models have faced continuous profit erosion due to the advancement of filesharing technologies like bittorrent.

In large part, their efforts have been successful, bringing about new legislation like the Copyright Alert System (previously referred to as the ‘Six-Strikes Law’). As a result, torrents are no longer the dominant bandwidth hog in the U.S. In fact, streaming service Netflix is now responsible for over 30% of peak downstream bandwidth. Netflix, an unlimited streaming service for legal content, presents its own sort of challenges, as content owners only receive a percentage revenue share of netflix subscription fees. In most cases, this revenue share is substantially lower than if each viewer had paid to purchase the content in a one-off sale. The upside of the streaming model is that Netflix bears all burden for distribution and marketing costs, so any revenue to the producers is pure profit.

Torrents go Under Ground

In countries like the United Kingdom, internet providers are now actively blocking piracy-adjacent sites like the Pirate bay. Even though most of these sites don’t actually host any infringing material, they do provide more efficient access to them. In order to circumvent these blocks, many file-sharers are now turning to technology such as Virtual Private Networks, which are now readily available and easily accessible to the masses.

Sites like Best Bittorrent VPN provide would-be anonymous torrentors with product comparisons and information about the realities of anonymization in the file-sharing space. Topics include: VPN Reviews, how-to guides, and educational articles on security, privacy, and more.

In 2010, it was estimated that only 15% of bittorrent users were using anonymization tools like VPN’s. In 2015, this number is likely well over 50% especially in western nations.

Usage of a VPN makes it virtually impossible to track online torrent downloads back to an individual user to to a combination of encryption and the benefit of an anonymous IP address. There are numerous free ‘How-To’ guides online showing users how to do everything from unblocking websites, to downloading torrents anonymously with vuze.

VPN services have dropped massively in price due to the increased consumer demand. They used to be a tool reserved for corporations to allow encrypted remote access to their company networks, but increasingly they’re being used for personal internet security and anonymization.

The Fallout

As more and more bittorrent users go underground by subscribing to a VPN service, the pool of non-anonymous torrenters grows smaller and smaller. The end result is an increasing amount of legal and governmental pressure or a shrinking group of users. The inevitable result is that these users will turn to anonymous VPN services in increasing numbers.

Unless there is massive copyright reform in the US that alligns penalties with the new realities of distribution, this trend will continue until virtually all bittorrent users (there are estimated to be over 100 Million) go underground and stay there.

What Comes Next?

It is a foregone conclusion that the old model of content distribution is dead. Distribution costs have come down to virtually free. No longer do media owners need to pay for shelf space, DVD production, shipping, etc. All digital content can now be distributed online for virtually no cost per unit sold.

Despite these technological advances, prices haven’t dropped (and in fact are continuing to increase) as producers cling to their old revenue model (one that dramatically undercompensates artists as well).

These reduced barriers to entry have also created immense opportunity for content creators (the artists) to market their work direct to consumers, bypassing content owners like record labels and film studios. This is the real threat to the old model. Once the artist realizes they can keep all the money, and reach a greater audience on their own, the distributor becomes unnecessary and irrelevant.

More an more, inventors are selling their products direct to consumers on their websites instead of seeking traditional distribution (and substantially decreased profit margins). Artists are now able to ‘break’ themselves by promoting their brand on websites like youtube, soundcloud, and facebook. It doesn’t take long to realize that when you keep 100% of the profits instead of 10%, you can earn substantially more money one substantially less business.

This trend is taking hold in nearly every industry, from art, to entrepreneurship, education, btb services, and more. I, for one, am looking forward to the future. It’s coming soon….