Europol Says Pirate IPTV Services Are Upping Their Game During COVID-19

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EU law enforcement agency Europol is warning citizens to stay away from pirate IPTV services during the coronavirus pandemic. While part of the message includes the usual cautions over potential malware and security issues, the agency says that the services are maintaining high-quality video streams and offering a wider range of content due to a lack of sports broadcasts.

From a standing start just few short years ago, pirate IPTV services are now just a few clicks away for anyone determined to obtain a subscription.

Packages start at pocket-money prices of just a few dollars, euros, or pounds each month and in return, subscribers are treated to packages that can include up to thousands of otherwise premium channels, plus PPV events.

One of the big draws is live sporting events, which goes a long way to explaining why companies like the Premier League are determined to disrupt IPTV providers. However, during the more or less global coronavirus lockdown, sports are a major casualty, meaning that everyone from the Premier League to the NBA, NFL and UFC aren’t putting out any new content at all.

While this is a serious problem for the sports organizations and traditional broadcasters, this week EU law enforcement agency Europol inadvertently pointed out something that looks like a bit of an own goal. Due to the current restrictions, pirate IPTV services are apparently stepping up their game to ensure that subscribing to them remains attractive to the public at large.

In an advisory covering streaming but majoring on ‘pirate’ IPTV, Europol warned that due to millions of people being locked down, many will turn to online entertainment outlets to cope with social isolation. If that choice involves an illegal service, consumers have at least a couple of things to look forward to.

“Criminals are quickly adapting their activities, offering high-quality stream[s] while legitimate providers have agreed to reduce stream quality due to EU broadband overload,” Europol writes.

This is an obvious reference to Netflix which agreed last month to reduce the bitrate of streams for 30 days in an effort to reduce the load on the Internet in Europe. Europol’s aim, it seems, is to portray pirate services as behaving irresponsibly towards the yet-to-emerge Internet capacity crisis. Counter-intuitively, however, it seems to suggest that if people want high-quality video, pirate sources are a good option.

While pirate suppliers could probably care less about available bandwidth, the vast majority of suppliers don’t provide content in anywhere near the highest quality available via Netflix. Certainly, true 4K streams are so rare as to seem non-existent, so the claim they’re using up too much bandwidth seems a little picky in the scheme of things.

Additionally, Europol goes on to inadvertently highlight another benefit of using pirate services – content choice. While mainstream subscription TV companies are struggling to fill in the gaps, especially those created by a lack of live sporting content, the EU law enforcement agency claims that pirate suppliers are actually upping their game by offering “more content variety to compensate [for] the lack of sport events.”

While both of these claims sound like reasons for people to take interest in pirate suppliers rather than stay away, Europol also balances things out with a number of warnings. These take the form of the standard caveats regularly cited by the entertainment industries, including malicious software infecting devices, ‘criminals’ stealing payment credentials, and bank accounts getting compromised.

As is common with these types of warnings, the standard advice from Europol doesn’t highlight how these things happen or how they can be prevented. The agency simply states that people should stay away from pirate services which would work, as would staying off the Internet completely. However, with most (but not all) users enjoying the benefits trouble-free, the warnings may not have much of an effect. That’s not to say that Europol doesn’t have some genuinely good advice in other areas though.

While there is no single piece of guidance that covers all streaming apps, the agency warns that people are probably better off not accessing “free IPTV platforms”. They don’t give a specific reason why but it is true that users could do worse than to consider how free IPTV services, usually supplied via apps, are funding their operations.

Much like free VPNs, there will be a cost somewhere, whether that’s intrusive or lots of advertising or, as Europol points out, potentially crypto-miners or other software that most people would prefer not to have on their machines. But sound advice from the law enforcement agency doesn’t stop there.

“Don’t share your phone number, email address or contact details with unofficial streaming platforms,” Europol warns.

While casual users might think that handing over such information is required, it shouldn’t be shared under any circumstances. Whether it’s a ‘reputable’ pirate IPTV supplier or one seeking to monetize free streams, no supplier needs to know a user’s personal details.

Fake names, phone numbers, temporary email addresses and imaginary physical addresses are never a problem for ‘reputable’ pirate suppliers because they have no interest in any of this information. Many use standard platforms that request it as part of the sign-up process but the information (email address aside) is never used to make contact or deliver goods.

Equally, providing fake details to a malicious third-party effectively gives them nothing, which is exactly what many savvy users already do with Internet-based services they are unsure of, whether that’s an IPTV provider or anything else for that matter.

Finally, Europol mentions something that cannot be disputed. While giving money to Netflix means that you will get precisely what you pay for, subscribing to pirate IPTV services directly or through a reseller is always a gamble. Either can disappear at any time taking subscribers’ money with them and many do.


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