The trend of increased privacy on BitTorrent websites, which are used to distribute files over the Internet, continues as uTorrent has announced that it will take measures to protect the identity and security of its users. While IP-addresses will remain visible, uTorrent will randomize peer-ids, which users display to the swarms of other torrent users from whom they are downloading files, according to Torrent Freak.
There are two main pieces of information that copyright enforcers use to collect information about Internet users who engage in illegal file sharing. Most notably is a user’s IP address, which has been compared to a user’s online fingerprint. When someone engages with an online community or downloads files from it, his or her IP address is monitored.
The second piece of information is someone’s peer-id. When downloading music, movies or other content from uTorrent, file-sharers connect with other users, known as peers. That connection is made by linking their uTorrent account to another one, which is identified by a user's peer id. It’s almost like a uTorrent-only IP address.
With this change, now, if someone logs on desperate to download a leaked copy of “The Dark Knight Rises,” uTorrent will randomize that person’s peer id, which is visible to other users, making it much less likely that someone’s downloading habits will be tracked.
The change will take place in the coding, so uTorrent users don’t have to modify anything in their accounts.
IP addresses will still be exposed on uTorrent, but earlier this month Torrent Freak reported that a California judge ruled that someone cannot be held accountable for what’s downloaded on their network. An IP address is not a person.
“This feature’s operation randomizes peer ids in an n-hour cycle to mitigate tracking of our users when they use non-private torrents,” a BitTorrent representative told Torrent Freak. “The effect is increased control for our users of their own information and activity which, just like users of any service, our users ask for and are entitled to.”
uTorrent is the most popular BitTorrent client there is, quietly boasting around 125 million active users every month. It’s also earned rave reviews from both PC and Mac users alike, mostly because of the site’s simplicity and user-friendliness.
Still, concern has been growing about how safe uTorrent really is. It’s an open client, making it risky for users who don’t take measures to increase their anonymity on the Internet.
This change comes at a time when privacy and security on the Internet are in short supply: For example, the U.S. Dept. of Justice recently coaxed the Ukrainian government to shut down the popular private torrent site Demonoid. The decision by uTorrent to up its privacy measures could also make it more attractive for former Demonoid users, although uTorrent’s new privacy settings are still a far cry from what Demonoid fans used to enjoy.