Research Claims Most Bittorrent Users are Tracked

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Research by the University of Birmingham has discovered it is likely that users of peer-to-peer sharing tools such as BitTorrent are being monitored and their IP addresses stored by a number of agencies.

The researchers created a piece of software similar to BitTorrent and recorded any connections that were made to it. The study found that if content was from the top 100 most recently downloaded items of music or film it was highly likely that the downloader’s IP address would be recorded, sometimes within hours of the download being made. When the program the researchers used downloaded less popular or recent content they found the IP address was less likely to be monitored.

The entities who were ‘tracking’ the BitTorrent users came from 10 or so different locations, some were unidentifiable as the searches were being performed from a third-party hosting service. Others were identified as security firms and copyright-enforcement agencies.

The study took over three years to complete and the researchers have warned that the huge scale of monitoring they have witnessed in this time indicates that some monitoring firms are storing massive amounts of data for future use. The data could potentially be used by copyright owners to obtain the physical addresses of downloaders from internet service providers.

IP addresses are used to identify the address at which an internet connection is based, but if the internet is used by more than one person at the same address it can be difficult to prove who used it. Likewise, wireless internet connections can easily be hijacked by others in the area, even if your connection is password-protected.

More worryingly, some malware can remotely access your computer and can feasibly conduct all manner of illegal activities without you ever knowing. A senior court judge who spoke to The Guardian had serious doubts about the efficacy of prosecuting file-sharers based on their IP addresses due to the unreliability of this kind of evidence.

The battle against copyright infringement continues, but the difficulties of catching and successfully prosecuting illegal downloaders remains one of the biggest headaches for copyright owners.

Whether any action comes from the publication of these findings remains to be seen, but many web users may now hesitate before double-clicking their torrent software in future.