In response to increasing legal actions and surveillance of Internet traffic, more and more file-sharers are choosing to hide their identities online. New data gathered through telephone interviews with thousands of adults reveals that in the US 15 percent of all file-sharers take measures to hide their IP-address. Some VPN and proxy providers have doubled their customer base in 2011, and this upward trend is bound to continue in the coming year.
BitTorrent is by no means a private way to share files, as YouHaveDownloaded demonstrated during recent weeks. However, it also illustrated that BitTorrent use is quite common.
Last month, the American Assembly, a non-partisan public policy forum affiliated with Columbia University, released a paper titled “Copyright Infringement and Enforcement in the US” which came to the same conclusion. To define the local piracy culture researchers conducted 2,303 telephone interviews, and they found that roughly half of all adults can be branded a pirate.
Sharing files among friends and family is the most common form of copyright infringement, and just over 13 percent of all respondents admitted to using file-sharing software such as BitTorrent to download content. File-sharing seems to be most popular among the younger demographic as can be seen in the graph below.
A section of the report that particularly piqued our interest concerns the use of tools to hide ones IP-address online. The original report shows that about 5 percent of the general population use these tools, but we expected this figure to be significantly higher among file-sharers.
The American Assembly was kind enough to share additional data with us which confirmed this suspicion. Among the people who use file-sharing software, little over 15 percent use tools to hide their IP-address online. In other words, one in 7 file-sharers in the US is anonymous.
Further analysis reveals that in particular younger adults hide their IP-addresses. A quarter of all file-sharers between the ages of 18 and 24 say they share files anonymously, while less than 5 percent of file-sharers older than 44 years hide their IP-address.
TorrentFreak talked to several VPN and proxy providers who all say they have witnessed substantial growth throughout the past year. The leading BitTorrent VPN and proxy service BTGuard even doubled its customer-base during the past 12 months.
“BTGuard has been consistently growing since we started. Compared to 2010, we increased by around 200% in 2011. The growth has really picked up lately which I contribute to SOPA and other censorship efforts,” BTGuard’s founder says.
“We grew 25% this month. If SOPA or something similar actually passes, the flood of Internet users seeking asylum from oppression would be staggering to say the least. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, the Internet is far more important to us then business.”
This uptick is not limited to the US either. All around the world BitTorrent users have become more aware of their privacy, as a survey among Pirate Bay users recently confirmed.
Although the data obtained through the American Assembly survey says nothing about people’s motivations to download anonymously, it is indeed safe to assume that the increased talk about anti-piracy laws, copyright alerts and file-sharing lawsuits are high up the list.
In the US alone over 250,000 BitTorrent users have been sued for alleged copyright infringements because their IP-address was captured by anti-piracy outfits. And in the coming year millions of sharers are expected to receive warnings through their Internet providers as part of a deal the major ISPs struck with copyright holders to educate and punish BitTorrent users.
A promising outlook for providers of VPN and proxy services, but whether these measures will have a significant effect on the prevalence of piracy remains to be seen.