While sites such as The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents are viewed as the public face of large-scale file-sharing, hidden away behind passworded fronts lies the private tracker community.
Many hundreds – possibly thousands – of so-called ‘private trackers’ exist on the Internet today, each serving their own unique blend of users and often focusing on specialist mix of content.
Since these are closed-door communities, few make the headlines. But despite their growth being artificially restricted by strict rules on who can enter, some swell to a significant size. The Denmark-based tracker ‘NextGen‘ is one such site and is currently the country’s 225 most-visited site overall.
Those successes, however, are now in the past. For reasons best known to its operators the site (NG) has now closed its doors, but the notice handed out to more than 40,000 users suggests that all is not well.
“Due to much attention on NG and therefore its users recently, we have decided to shut down the tracker. This is done solely and exclusively for your safety, as during the last few weeks NG has attracted much extra attention,” the site’s operators said in a statement.
“This means not only a greater risk for the staff but also you as users. That is why we have decided that we will no longer take the risk that we or you must end up in a situation that none of us would like. We would like to thank you for the time we have had together, with the hope of a reunion soon.”
While it is fairly common for sites to shut down without giving much of an explanation, in the informational vacuum that follows rumors begin to fly.
For instance, in some quarters much is being made of Pirate Bay founder Gottfrid Svartholm’s alleged connections to the site. As seen in the image below, his name is indeed present in the site’s domain listings.
But this fact alone is almost certainly not a sign of his direct involvement. In the past, NextGen had dealings with PRQ, a company historically owned by Gottfrid. Over the years countless dozens of sites opted to have PRQ and the Pirate Bay founder’s name as contact details on their domain instead of their own.
That being said, for a successful site to close down so quickly it’s likely that pressure from the authorities had been mounting for some time. As far back as 2011, Danish police arrested then 19-year-old law student Halfdan Timm, accusing him of spreading illegal information on a blog and suggesting he was the NextGen operator.
“At first, they tried to figure out whether I was leading the tracker, searching for hidden equipment in the apartment, but when they realized that wasn’t the case, they tried to get as much information as possible about the actual owners,” he told TF at he time.
For an earlier article, Timm had indeed interviewed an operator of NextGen in-depth, which led the police to believe there had been a connection. However, several years later potentially more damaging information began appearing online about the operators of NextGen and their alleged activities.
After it was alleged they were making upwards of $200,000 a year from the NextGen, two men were publicly linked to the site by anonymous critics. A document purporting to detail how NextGen accepted Bitcoin through a ‘front’ web-hosting company is now doing the rounds. If accurate (and it’s hard to say either way), that ‘doxxing’ certainly won’t have helped the security of the site – or its operators.