A new study conducted by Sweden’s Lund University (Cybernorms.net) has revealed that 40% more 15 to 25-year-olds are now “hiding their activities online” than in 2009, such as by using services like Virtual Private Networking (VPN), and often as a means to avoid the increasing crackdown against internet piracy and unlawful file sharing.
The unsurprising news follows a major ruling by London’s High Court of Justice on Monday, which extended a court ordered injunction for blocking The Pirate Bay (p2p file sharing tracker) website to include most of the UK’s biggest broadband providers (here): Sky Broadband, Everything Everywhere (Orange UK and T-Mobile), TalkTalk, O2 and Virgin Media. The initial injunction only covered BT Retail.
It’s widely known that people can mask their online activity with relative ease (‘How to Keep Your Data Private and Browse the Internet Anonymously‘) and that’s exactly what those in Sweden appear to be doing. In fact the research claims that some 700,000 Swedes now use a paid VPN solution to keep their online activity masked from the prying eyes of governments and Rights Holders.
Adrian Kennard, Director of Broadband Provider AAISP UK, said:
“It seems the big ISPs are ordered to block the pirate bay in the same way as BT was. It is silly. Most blocks like this can be bypassed simply by using https, but there are always going to be many ways around the block, and even if the block worked research already shows that it has no actual benefit in stopping downloads generally, so is simply not appropriate as a legal tool.
A filter can work if its objective is to help people avoid seeing something by mistake (IWF blocking for example) – where the users are actually keen to have the block. This applies to thinks like blocking “malware” as well, and is why many ISPs do offer spam and virus filtering stuff. The users want it, and will even pay for it, so the blocking works.
The second you have someone with motivation to work around the blocking, it will not work. You make it a tad harder, maybe, and that is all. You don’t change behaviour. You can’t block people motivated to find porn on the internet (e.g. teenage boys). You can’t block people motivated to find music and videos that they want. The best you can do is mask the issue.”
Overall some 15% of all respondents to the study claimed to use an anonymity service (e.g. proxy servers, vpn etc.), which is up from 10% in 2009, and the figures are expected to climb as tougher measures come into play. Suffice to say that it’s an interesting indication of what might happen in the UK, especially since such services can also be used to circumvent related website blocks. So why bother with blocking at all? Apparently, it’s all about irritating people.
Mark Mulligan, Independent Music Analyst (Music Industry Blog), explains:
“The aim of domain blocking, as with all piracy enforcement measures, is not to turn off the tap entirely but instead to make it so inconvenient for mass market consumers that the activity will become unappealing. So the technical challenges need not be fatal flaws in domain filtering strategy if the net result irritating inconvenience for most users.
Removing the Pirate Bay from the UK web will have a significant impact on file sharing, at least in the short term. There are only a handful of other public sites that index torrent files and have a working tracker, though there is a longer list of sites that have indices but not trackers.
If the music industry acts quickly and puts something new and compelling in place to capture the demand of frustrated Pirate Bay users then there is a strong chance that a host of new digital music customers can be won. But that means a new generation of product. The 99 cent download and 9.99 subscription have proven patently uninteresting to the majority of digital music consumers (by which I mean people who listen to music digitally and / or access it digitally).”
Mulligan makes a good final point. Paid VPN solutions, at least those good enough to do the job properly, tend to cost around £5-£6 per month (prices do vary). This clearly represents a failure of the industry to deliver content in the way that people actually want. Unfortunately stiff licensing restrictions, high prices (for some content types only), staggered releases between countries, access limitations and all sorts of other issues often get in the way of being able to offer a truly compelling alternative.
As a side note, all of these measures are doing a good job of educating a new generation in how to avoid being detected online. In the future that could make it even more difficult to detect those who go down the wrong path and end up committing real online crimes or terrorism offences.
Meanwhile ISPs probably won’t be too concerned about the uptake of VPN or similar services because, to the outside world at least, it will probably appear as though the piracy problem has diminished when in fact it’s merely less visible. Politicians might even call that a success.