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We are Not Aµsed

PC Apps | Friday, March 17th, 2006 | 11 years, 6 months ago

There are a lot of excellent Bittorrent clients to use, and choosing the right one can be a perplexing task. Unfortunately, my decision just got a little easier.

My torrent client of choice until today, µTorrent, (not “youTorrent”, but “myooTorrent”) is admittedly an absolutely brilliant bit of programming. The tiny client (about 300kB) doesn’t require installation, uses only about 6MB of RAM (vs. up to 150MB by competitor Azureus, and is totally packed with features. It would pretty much be the torrent client of my dreams if only it were open source.

And therein lies the uncertainty.

A story on Slyck reports that the sole programmer of µTorrent, Ludvig Strigeus, has recently been employed by PeerFactor, a company hired by such organization as the RIAA to pollute P2P networks with fake and damaging files, and which also rewarded residential volunteers with cash for turning in their neighbours. The PeerFactor website confirms this in some dialect of English I am unfamiliar with.

PeerFactor is reportedly not the unscrupulous company it used to be, but an offshoot formed by former employees of the old company, now RetSpan, who disagreed with the predecessor’s anti-P2P agenda. (what better way to distance yourself than to keep the infamous name?)Retspan went on to mount a huge attack on Suprnova, once the star atop the P2P xmas tree.

PeerFactor seems to deny their past, however:

““We do not distribute any fake file over P2P, but only useful content,” Frenchman Richard Rodrigues, head of PeerFactor told Slyck. “We have never distributed fakes file (unreadable) because no user would […] want to distribute [them].”

Ludwig shakily pleads ignorance over the identity of the company he has agreed to assist for 6 months:

These seem to be (legally) two totally independent entities. I have a contract with the second, while the first one is clearly Anti-P2P.

The same people (at least one person) are behind both of them. They are probably confused mortals that realized that Anti-P2P isn’t the right way to go, so they made another company related to the positive effects of P2P.

When challenged on the correlation between his popular Bittorrent client and anti-P2P agencies, Ludwig spoke up, as he rarely does, on the Slyck forums:

It’s not like this will affect µTorrent. We did not sign a deal about µTorrent, we signed a deal that I will provide them with code that implements the Bittorrent protocol. This code will be used in an ad supported file distribution system webmasters can use to publish big content.

Apparently Peerfactor considers advertisements to be “useful content”. Regardless, web advertising plus Bittorrent equals bad news. Bittorrent is a protocol designed to spread files between average internet users to offload server uploads. This likely means that Ludwig’s contribution to Peerfactor will assist in forcing the average user’s desktop computer to upload ads appearing on web sites to other users. In my experience, such programs do not ask you nicely whether you’d like to trade your bandwidth for pay in order to make money for advertisers. Summation: this is very bad for the internet.

–edit– Perhaps I’ve misinterpreted Ludwig’s words. He may also be talking about writing a Bittorrent client that displays ads. In this case, he is guilty of affixing adware to a public protocol where ad-free alternatives are available. –edit–

Conspiracy theorists are running wild on this series of events, as well they ought to since it’s tough to believe that Ludwig didn’t even google Peerfactor before agreeing to work for them. Such a claim is akin to accusing Bungie Studios, developers of Halo and Microsoft’s poster child, of working for Macintosh. (Eh? Marathon? What’s that?)

In the end, however, whether or not there is any nefarious plot afoot regarding µTorrent is irrelevant to me. The summation of the facts is just too disturbing for me to ignore. The sole progammer renown for his rare but glib replies to user queries, takes a job at a (former?) P2P antagonist, claims not to know that this company is in conflict with his freeware endeavours, gives a shady interview in which he denies little, becomes uncharacteristically vocal on his project’s home page (click “read more” beside “µTorrent is not associated with any anti-P2P organization”), finally admits to writing some form of adware that utilizes the Bittorrent protocol, and all the while refuses to open the source of his software. These facts compounded are too much to ignore.

I’ve no proof, in the end, that Ludwig is guilty of anything more than association. But that’s enough. I have deleted µTorrent and will never use it again. I’ve been banned from the µTorrent discussion forum for saying so which won’t instill much faith in anyone.

I’ve switched back to Azureus and am very pleased with my decision. µTorrent is undoubtedly a very advanced and effective Windows client, but Azureus is better. The distributed hash table yields on average 30000 times more distributed tracker peers (nearly 1 million vs about 300), the client supports plugins including Safepeer which automatically downloads lists of corporate investigative agencies and blocks their IPs, and the client is open source and thus has been scrutinized by dozens of programmers.

When it comes to free software, pledging allegiance means nothing. If a piece of software doesn’t suit your needs, get another freeware alternative. µTorrent serves my needs quite well, but the programmer is an untrustworthy fellow who I’d no sooner invite into my home than onto my hard drive.

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