BitTorrent attempts to shake off ‘illegal’ tag

I recently attended a media roundtable in San Francisco with top executives from BitTorrent, which invented the popular file sharing technology that now has as much as 80-million monthly users.

Here are some key points about how BitTorrent sees itself as a company, and where it wants to go:

  • BitTorrent has been working on a live streaming technology for two years and now it is almost ready to be rolled out. The company expects to launch it by the end of this year. It is described as very robust. I wonder if live streaming could cut down on the practice of sharing illegally copied music or movies. Also, if you could effectively host your own YouTube, you wouldn’t need to upload video to a hosting site.
  • The company is trying to distance itself from the use of BitTorrent by those sharing files of illegally copied music and movies and show the commercial sector that it can be used to solve significant issues around distribution of large files across the entire Internet. It did consider changing its name.
  • BitTorrent doesn’t know very much about how people use its technology. It says it doesn’t want to collect too much information because it doesn’t want to encroach on user’s privacy.
  • It is looking into launching a service that helps connect like minded BitTorrent users. It has the capability to message each user.
  • The BitTorrent technology is not very privacy-friendly because of the peer-to-peer connections. It is easy for anyone to find out the IP addresses of people sharing a specific file. But using BitTorrent through a VPN connection does improve user privacy.
  • BitTorrent last week launched an App platform and it is also working with artists to power a shared film festival, and also with TED to distribute videos.
  • The company changed its protocol earlier this year to avert a problem in which ISPs were blocking BitTorrent file sharing because it was taking up too much bandwidth. The new protocol automatically detects if bandwidth is in short supply and slows down the transfer until more bandwidth is available. This can speed up file sharing because there is no blocking.
  • The number of users has jumped from 20-million monthly two years ago to as much as 100-million during some months. Much of this growth has come from emerging economies, such as Russia, where more than 50% of Russian males between the age 18 to 34 years use BitTorrent.

Overall, I was impressed with the BitTorrent team and I see the technology as almost a fundamental part of the internet infrastructure. It solves many key problems in terms of moving large data files, such as high res video, between internet users. There are many legitimate uses — not the piracy that some BitTorrent users are involved in.

The clever approach to making sure that BitTorrent files do not tie up vast amounts of internet bandwidth shows that the company is striving hard to be a good citizen and improve the usefulness of its technology.



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