BitTorrent Monitoring As a Work of Art

Opinion

Last week we reported on a website which claimed to breach BitTorrent users' security by showing what media they were sharing along with their IP addresses. The article provoked hundreds of responses, some scared at the site's abilities and others proclaiming it as an elaborate fake. So what exactly was it for and who was behind it?

Monitoring, not just on BitTorrent but on the Internet in general, is a very hot topic. If thousands of news articles are to be believed, we are lurching ever closer to an online world where routine surveillance is common place, where privacy is thrown aside and the interests of governments and corporations trump the rights of the individual.

So, when we reported on the Meningrey website last week, a web location which seemed to destroy the privacy of BitTorrent users and perpetuated the paranoid climate we find ourselves in these days, it was no surprise that some were terrified at the implications.

TorrentFreak was first tipped off about the site by an anonymous reader, which is nothing new as this happens just about every day. After looking at the site and carrying out some tests on the alleged monitoring system, it was clear that all was not as it seemed. So we started looking a little deeper.

We discovered that the site was on the same server as Moddr_, a place created to be “more accessible to young artists and hackers, without the need for overblown project descriptions and ridiculous budget applications.”

Indeed, research on elements of the email sent to us by the tipster also revealed a solid link to k0a1a.net, a site which belongs to Russian-born computer artist Danja Vasiliev who currently lives somewhere between Berlin and Rotterdam.

“Working with diverse methods, technologies and materials Danja ridicules the contemporary affection for digital life and questions the global tendency for cyborgination,” says his self-written ‘Curriculum Vitae of a Computer Interventionist’.

According to his website, Danja likes to “bring and explain to people how easy it is to confuse or sabotage established systems, what can be the [dis]advantage of [mis]using computers or computer software and what consequences and surprises we can expect from the growing popularity of technological innovations.”

Before writing the original article we contacted Danja to gently let him know we were on to him but we couldn’t get him to give us any more information. We were then left with a choice. We could either expose his site and undeniable hard work as some kind of “fraud” or simply report on the site and let our savvy readers investigate and decide for themselves while hinting that all might not be as it seemed.

Aside from hundreds of comments, we received countless emails from people interested in the site, each with their own angle on what it might be. Most people recognized that it wasn’t a real monitoring site but at this stage, even though we knew it wasn’t an anti-piracy operation, we didn’t really know how it was functioning of if the data was indeed ‘real’. We have since learned that the ‘monitoring’ data is culled from the Top 100 torrents on The Pirate Bay.

We’re no art critics here at TorrentFreak, but Meningrey does seem to qualify as a genuine work of art because it does what good art does best, and that is to provoke thoughts, emotions and discussion among those appreciating it.

In this case the comments made by those that have viewed the site are probably just as important as the site itself, and actually become an integral part of the message. Quite what that message is exactly, as with much art, is subjective and open to interpretation. We expect that Danja wouldn’t have it any other way.

Update: We received the following extra information:

‘Men in Grey’ and associated http://meningrey.net are not ‘moddr_’ projects. This friendly media-lab provided some technical and moral support for ‘M.I.G’ but does not have any authorship in the project.

‘Men in Grey’ are two individuals – Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev. This work is a digital intervention intended to demonstrate the absence of any boundaries between public computer networks (as in ‘internet’) and public space (as in ‘city streets’). ‘M.I.G’ is a series of performances carried out in large cities around the world.

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