Getting Stressed Out With Anonymous BitTorrent

With 6-figure file-sharing fines being handed out, people like OiNK facing prison and ISPs meddling with BitTorrent, hiding your online activity is becoming a hot topic. Relakks burst onto the scene as savior a little while ago but are they still performing for the BitTorrent community? Relakks'ed? Stressed out more like.

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Millions of people around the globe share files and most do so without a second thought for privacy issues. A lot don’t know that it’s possible for people to monitor their online activities and equally, many will know that they can be monitored but chance their hand that they are one in millions and will probably slip under the radar.

For an increasing number of net users, privacy and a level of anonymity is becoming a requirement, especially for those in locales where ridiculous fines and prison sentences are becoming more prevalent. Those faced with the menace of P2P meddling ISPs or those hassled by the nuisance of sites being blocked can solve all of these problems with a VPN – a Virtual Private Network service.

Anyone looking for a Relakks alternative (who doesn’t wish to read my rantings!) should scroll to the section below marked: “Relakks Alternatives”

The Rise and Fall of Relakks

When Relakks burst on to the scene in late 2006 it was heralded as the “world’s first commercial darknet”, promising to hide your online identity in exchange for a small fee. As a big privacy fan (some might say ‘obsessive’), I immediately signed up for this service and have been a customer ever since. Sadly, I’ve had enough.

Although great for web browsing and running one or two torrents at a time, ask it to handle more than a handful of torrents and the whole connection simply stops responding. I’ve seen many other Relakks users with this same problem and to come home from many hours out, eager to sample what you downloaded today only to find a dead connection, it’s an annoyance. When you were supposed to be seeding a friend’s Hip-Hop album all night and it died after 6mb uploaded and no-one got anything, it’s a major hassle and time to complain to Relakks. Again.

Relaxed Customer Service

Any member of Relakks will tell you – their customer support is VERY ‘relaxed’. Send them a complaint or a query – it takes at least 3 days to get a response. My multiple questions about the ‘dropped connection’ issue always resulted in ‘you have a firewall issue’ response and this is a standard response to people complaining about this. The Relakks ‘News/Status‘ page is never updated, it’s useless.

There have been many, many days where service has been sporadic at best but recently the entire Relakks network was down from Friday to Monday so I ran out of patience and complained in my capacity as TorrentFreak writer – surely this would be enough? I wrote a highly detailed email looking for some definitive answers and the great response from [email protected] after multiple attempts at different times was: ‘Undeliverable’

Relakks you have lost me – not on price but customer service. I have you emailed you many, many times over the months, you have never solved my problems. Your service is cheap but when I pay for a premium service I expect support – I get better support from free BitTorrent sites. Time to protest by spending elsewhere – if only I hadn’t paid you 12 months in advance.

Relakks Alternatives

VPNOut kindly got in touch to let us sample their service but due to issues with the host PC (it wasn’t VPNOut’s fault) that trial never really got off the ground but already, responses and customer service levels were way above what i’d experienced with Relakks.

Moving on, I came across VPNTunnel and I thought I’d give it a try. Sadly I had the same installation issues as I did with VPNOut but it was at this point where you really appreciate a company who not only wants your business, but is prepared to bend over backwards to get it. With nearly 20 years in sales, I know good service when I see it and VPNTunnel’s blew me away.

After complaining I couldn’t install VPNTunnel’s software (my PC’s fault, not theirs) a customer support guy got in touch within minutes and over the course of the next 24 hours and number of emails later resulted in me receiving a custom version of their software, tailored to my exact requirements! I was back in business and loving the contrast in customer service levels. Now for a trial run.

After loading 3 torrents and allowing each to connect to a minimum of 10 peers, more torrents were loaded, totaling 15. The connection remained stable with a total speed of around 5mbit, which compares to Relakks. Stability remained for all transfers even after simultaneous downloads were initiated on both IRC and Usenet. More speed would be nice but given the choice, I’ll take reliability instead. A generous 50gig monthly limit is more than enough for me.

Relakks (Sweden) do not reveal what information they hold on their customers but say they won’t give it up unless ordered to in a criminal case carrying a penalty of 2 years in jail. VPNTunnel (based in Scotland) obviously keep your payment data but only carry log in information (your real IP address) for 30 days and there are signs this may decrease further to 21 days. Any potential legal action would need to move at an unprecedented speed to have even a small chance of identifying someone.

File-sharers are notoriously difficult to please – they get everything for free and still expect customer service from torrent sites and the like. So when a file-sharer actually puts his hand in his pocket to pay for a service, he expects to be treated well. I think deep down I’m more angry with myself than Relakks. I’ve promoted Relakks for 12 months to thousands of people and then in the end, couldn’t take my own advice.

You weren’t all bad Relakks, you just took me for granted and although I’ll end up paying more with VPNTunnel, it’s worth it, if only to get stability and that ‘wanted’ feeling.

Here ends my first ever Tor-Rant. Deep breaths….in……out….

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