OneSwarm: The Privacy Aware BitTorrent Client

Developed at the University of Washington, OneSwarm is a BitTorrent client that allows users to share files "anonymously" or with a specific group of friends. These features give users more control over their privacy, while maintaining a decent download speed. The client operates from within an Internet browser and is available for Mac, Windows and Linux.

oneswarmThose who’ve been reading TorrentFreak for long enough may remember how the MPAA and RIAA accused a printer at the University of Washington of copyright infringement a few years ago.

With their research, the researchers pointed out that gathering evidence on BitTorrent downloaders is full of pitfalls.

Perhaps not coincidentally the same research group is also behind the “privacy preserving” BitTorrent client OneSwarm, currently developed by Tomas Isdal and Michael Piatek, two PhD students at the University of Washington.

Unlike other regular BitTorrent clients, OneSwarm allows users to share files only with a selected group of friends. While regular and public BitTorrent downloads are also supported, the privacy settings allow users to obscure the source of a transfer by sending it through multiple intermediaries.

“Virtually everyone on the Internet is a content producer, but today we only have one model for sharing: sign over the rights to your work to a website, with the hope that it will respect your privacy,” researcher Michael Piatek told TorrentFreak commenting on the importance of privacy on BitTorrent.

“OneSwarm is an attempt to provide an alternative. Our view is that private data sharing is an essential service in free and open societies,” he added. How the various privacy settings work is explained in detail in the video below, posted by the OneSwarm team.

Although OneSwarm has been in development for a while, the researchers have made its source available on GitHub in an update this week. Binaries and the source code are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X platforms.

We tested OneSwarm, and although the browser interface is something you have to get used to, the download speeds are more than reasonable. This is also confirmed in one of the academic papers published by the OneSwarm team (pdf). In a performance comparison they found that it outperformed other “private” sharing options such as Freenet and BitTorrent over Tor.

Users have to be aware though, that while using the ‘public’ mode transfers are not anonymized.

That said, an Open Source effort to allow more privacy controls for BitTorrent users is something that can only be encouraged. The next step many BitTorrent users are looking forward to is the arrival of a fully anonymized BitTorrent client with decent speeds.

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