As I hope most readers already know, the problem with “torrenting” is that it is anything but anonymous. Indeed, the synonyms P2P (peer-to-peer) and filesharing provide a big clue. When files are “downloaded” using the BitTorrent protocol, they are actually shared among a decentralized network of other BitTorrent users.
This is a very efficient way to share files, and removes the need to store them on a centralized server somewhere. But it does mean that every person sharing a file can see the IP address of every other person who is sharing the same file.
Here in Vuze I can easily see the IP address of everyone one else who is sharing the same file as me
This makes it very easy for copyright holders to track torrenters who have downloaded their intellectual property without their consent. Unless you hide your real IP with a VPN, of course!
You are being monitored
I Know What You Downloaded is a new website which highlights this point. When you visit the website you will see a list of torrents that have downloaded from your IP address. And if you don’t routinely use a VPN to protect yourself when downloading, then the results are likely to come as something of a shock.
You can also enter any IP address, and the website will show torrents that have been downloaded from that address. In the above example, a simple WHOIS search tells me the name of the internet account holder, their address, and even their phone number (in Montreal, Canada)! Scary stuff indeed.
Even creepier, the website allows you to send an email to a friend. And when they open this email, you can see what they have downloaded. I do not recommend doing this.
The website currently monitors 460,000 torrents. And over the last month has built up a database of over 70 million unique IP addresses associated with downloading these torrents.
The website should serve as a sharp warning to torrenters that you really need to protect yourself with a good VPN service, proxy or seedbox). This is not its purpose, however. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to Andrey Rogov, marketing director for the company behind it,
“We’ve set up the site for promotional purposes and as a demonstration of our capabilities. We are engaged in the distribution of information relating to torrent downloading activity to rightsholders, advertising platforms, law-enforcement and international organizations.”
Copyright-holding customers can access the information collected by the website through a custom API. In addition to IP addresses, TCP dumps are also recorded. These can be used to provide further evidence linking downloaded content to a specific IP address.
Can I remove my IP from the website and its database?
As a rule, no. Even if someone else is responsible for downloading it over your network. Only under extenuating circumstances will details be removed from the website,
“For example, we received a letter from a girl whose sexually explicit video had appeared on the Internet and had been widely spread over torrents sites. We helped her to remove public access to this content. We also respond to inquiries from some organizations. For example, Northeastern University asked us about torrent downloads from their IP-addresses.”
So please use a VPN when downloading!
Using a VPN will protect you because:
- The VPN connection between your PC and the VPN server is encrypted. This means that your ISP cannot see that you are doing on the internet
- You access the internet via the VPN server, so your IP appears to be that of the VPN server. Everyone else sharing the same file using a BitTorrent client will see the IP address of the VPN server rather than not your real IP address.
Be aware, however, that not all VPN services permit torrent downloading. These may cancel your subscription, or even pass on your personal details if they are contacted by a copyright holder about the offense.
You should therefore always check that torrent downloading (P2P) is permitted when choosing a VPN. The good news, however, is that there are plenty of great services out there dedicated to protecting your privacy and shielding you from DMCA notices or worse…
Please see 5 Best VPNs for Torrenting, P2P, Filesharing for our pick of these, plus a general discussion on issues related to the topic.