Millions of File-Sharers Hide Their Identities Online

Millions of file-sharers have responded to the entertainment industry lobby by taking measures to hide their identities. A recent survey found that in Sweden alone, half a million Internet subscribers use anonymizing services. The findings further suggest that tougher anti-piracy legislation will boost these numbers significantly.

As pressure from anti-piracy outfits on governments to implement strict anti-piracy laws increases, millions of file-sharers have decided to protect their privacy by going anonymous. In Sweden alone an estimated 500,000 Internet subscribers are hiding their identities. Many more say they will follow suit if the Government continues to toughen copyright law.

These findings are the result of the Cyber Norms sociological research project carried out by a group of Swedish researchers. The researchers conducted a survey among Swedes aged between 15 and 25 and found that 10 percent of this group is currently taking measures against increasing online surveillance.

Måns Svensson, PhD in Sociology of Law in Lund, estimates the percentage of all Swedes who are hidden on the Internet to be as high as 6 or 7 percent. If this figure is accurate, it means that there are more than half a million Swedes who already use a service to hide their identity.

The researchers note that file-sharing is not the only reason for people to anonymize their connection, but the results of the survey clearly show that avid file-sharers would rather hide their identities than stop downloading. And indeed, over the past months we’ve seen that more and more BitTorrent users are seeking ways to protect their privacy online, rendering all the newly proposed anti-piracy laws useless.

Contrary to what the anti-piracy lobby had hoped for, file-sharers are not an easy catch. Their calls for harsher copyright legislation are only driving ‘pirates’ underground. According to the Cyber Norms survey, more than half of all respondents said they would take measures to protect their identities if anti-piracy laws in Sweden are toughened, as is currently happening in the UK and France.

Currently, the most common and widely used privacy services are VPNs. These services allow a user to connect to the Internet while hiding their own IP-address. Millions of file-sharers around the world use services like this to prevent being tracked by anti-piracy companies, and this number is increasing rapidly.

The recently launched Itshidden service is one of the few that offer a free service in addition to premium subscriptions. Due to its increased popularity the owners recently had to disable new registrations in order to keep the service running smoothly. In just a few months Itshidden signed up over 100,000 members. Other VPN services report an increase in signups too.

The anti-piracy laws currently being mulled have created a flourishing multi-million dollar ‘online privacy’ industry. In recent months these services have seen a massive increase in customers, with most of them paying around $10 per month to prevent third parties from logging their download behavior.

Perhaps the entertainment industry should invest some time and money in creating legal and attractive alternatives to piracy. Apparently most file-sharers are willing to pay $120 a year for unlimited and unhindered access.

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