Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Torrents: The Smart Way to NOT Get Caught. Or, Why You Shouldn't Use a VPN Anymore.

It's been a long time, and while I have written a couple articles, I didn't publish them because I felt like they just... weren't... grand enough! There are so many ideas and subjects out there, but I like to pluck the few that are truly incredible, original, or created by me.

Today I am going to discuss torrent downloading. Many people use them for illegal purposes, so this information is strictly for educational purposes. I will dive into some ideas on the illegal side, but I am making it clear that I in no way endorse breaking the law. That being said, let's continue...

Is a Torrent a Torrent By Any Other Name?
Short answer, no. I just needed a catchy title. There are many ways to go about getting media and/or programs off the net. One such way is through torrents.

Torrents are not illegal, but they are normally used for "evil". To avoid going into too much detail, a torrent is created for whatever (i.e. software, games, movies, etc.). You then use a torrent client to read torrents and download whatever it is it contains.

We've Got Issues
The problem with torrents is that while there are items out there that are free or public domain, most things out there are of intellectual property owned by existing companies who lose money when you download their copyrighted material illegally. This is commonly known as piracy.

Another problem beyond money is ratings. You don't pay per show on TV, you pay a subscription to a cable provider. But ratings help the networks gauge what shows should be renewed or cancelled, and also help bring in money for advertisements. If you download a show, those networks really have no way of knowing that you were watching the show, which in turn hurt the shows ratings and possibly its sponsors.

Ideal Situations
While it is illegal to download these properties, let me give you an example of why it should be allowed in certain situations. Let's pretend I am an avid watcher of a show and I realize my schedule no longer allows me to watch that show on its regular time. And maybe reruns aren't occurring (yet). So, I should be allowed to watch the show offline since I plan to delete once I'm done.

This would be an ideal situation for us watchers, but again, this is a problem for networks and ratings. Some networks do post reruns on their websites, which helps them with monitoring ratings. However, they are just for streaming. If you have an extremely slow Internet connection, it may be as good as not having any type of access at all.

Some Tips
What I have noticed from cable companies is that you get warned about three times if downloading things illegally (and sometimes even legally). It has happened to me - and yes, I deleted the files I had watched - and it will happen to you sooner or later.

There are three ways to avoid the cable companies from finding you out. The first is to find a way without torrents as torrents rely on peer-to-peer networks, which cable companies can access and monitor. Something like Usenet can be helpful, if you set it up for anonymity properly; but there are still other options...

A less stealthy approach is to avoid anything new or popular on torrents. It seems to me that if you are downloading a new show, game or software, the cable company will know. Remember, the cable company has limited resources, so they can't watch every single item on torrents. That would be impossible, and an expensive venture on their part. Instead they monitor whatever is extremely popular, like a movie from last year everyone loved, or that new game from last month everyone is clamoring over. While this may not always be the case, it certainly will decrease the risk associated with using torrents.

The last way is to use my method, which I will be explaining shortly. It is the cheapest technique I have come across yet, and should keep your anonymity.

Back In The Day
The most known methods nowadays is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. These services allow you to hide behind their networks with varying anonymity, and often will allow you to bypass restrictions that ISP's give to access certain sites. Proxies are similar in that sense, but they are not meant strictly to hide your identity.

My biggest problem with VPN's are that some services keep permanent logs of data. Those logs are what can get you into trouble. Even though you may have been anonymous when downloading, if that VPN service handed over their logs to a government agency, they could find your IP address and link you to illegal downloading.

It is always best to check if a VPN service keeps logs, and if so, for how long. There are plenty who don't keep any logs, and others who keep them for a matter of time before dumping them. The ones that just keep them are the ones that can cause you problems.

My New Method
When I stumbled upon this it was purely by accident as I was actually searching for a hosting site that would allow uploading of my (personal) files and create torrents from them that could be downloaded by others; thereby avoiding the use of my resources - mainly bandwidth issues. Instead, I found a site that will allow you to ditch VPN and give you the same benefits.

You might ask, "Why would I ditch a VPN if this does the same thing?" That's a good question, with a better answer. While I did not find what I was looking for, I did find a site that allows me to download torrents through them. So you do avoid any of your resources being spent. That extra bandwidth can now be spent watching YouTube videos, or whatever you want to do with it.

Sure, at some point you might need to download the files yourself. I say might because if it is video (maybe music too?), you can do streaming directly from the site. But even if you need to download the files, you can use a download manager that will allow you to pause downloads when necessary and get them at much faster speeds - if you don't have extremely fast Internet speeds already. Otherwise, your browser should be able to pause and restart the downloads as well, albeit at slower speeds.

But by far, the best additional benefit is the price. The site does have monthly subscriptions, so that is fine and dandy for those who prefer to do things periodically. However, they offer a lifetime membership! That membership costs about $70 USD.

Now compare that to a VPN service. The cheapest I know of, that follows the guidelines I have outlined above, is about $10 per month. If you plan to use a VPN service for more than 7 months, this will greatly benefit you. Even if not, $70 for a lifetime membership is still pretty great since you could come back anytime and use it.

As a final point, they have the benefit of unlimited storage space. This is great for me. And while files can only be up to 10GB in size, that can always be circumvented by doing something like splitting up a larger file into several smaller ones like .RAR files. No VPN service I know of offers cloud storage, and no cloud storage I know of offer unlimited space...

Site Please?
I feel a bit odd at this point as it's like I'm advertising for a company who doesn't pay me. Yet I'm not trying to trick anyone, just trying to inform people of a better way to use torrents.

The site is: UploadHero.co

This is a French site, but it has an option [flag] to change the language to English. The reason I chose this site is because France seem to be one of the safer choices if choosing a foreign online service. They also have some interesting laws in concerns with downloading copyrighted material. 

In the US, people merely have to send a letter or notice stating to stop using or downloading copyrighted material in order for a company to obey. In France (and other parts of the EU), a simple letter will not suffice. A notice needs to come from the company or person who holds the rights, or their legal representation, and I believe it also needs the power of a court order or something similar. This is a big hassle for foreign companies to go through, and it can be actually be smarter for them to avoid these legal troubles and take a small hit rather than going through all that (as unjust as that is).

From what I have read, France now has some system to automatically fine people every time they are caught downloading copyrighted material illegally. I am not sure how that works for companies, but it shouldn't matter for the end user unless that company actively seeks out illegal content in their servers. UploadHero does not seem to be one of those companies...

Anonymity, Am I Safe?
This method should be the safest route. Given the laws stated above that must be adhered to, it makes it difficult for a company to even get companies who are infringing to stop doing so. And even if it goes far enough to make a company stop, there should be little to no consequences to the end-user. Maybe a warning or a hiatus of service for a certain period of days.

However, it is unlikely that they will get your billing information, and thus your identity, as the company is the one allowing the "disservice", not its users. Besides, I am fairly sure there are some strong international laws that would forbid this being done easily. However, it might be different for cases involving French content.

Taking that all into account, the money wasted on a company going after these type of upload services - especially one such as this which has little impact in countries other than its own, and even then I'm not sure how popular it is in France - would be counterproductive to trying to maintain and increase profits. That being said, this information should only be needed if you are committing illegal acts. Users who are not performing crimes should have nothing to worry about.

BETA Testing
The current torrent uploading feature on UploadHero is in Beta. I tried it only a couple times and each time it gave me an upload error. They do ask to report errors, but I'm guessing from how they worded it that using English won't help much...

In addition, I didn't know about this feature until after I signed up and explored a little bit. As far as I know, they don't have any information on the site about torrents. If you search on the net you might find some other review sites that briefly detail this function.

One More Thing
I did neglect to mention that if you want to signup for UploadHero and are not in France, you may not be able to make a payment the first time around. I had this happen to me and I had to contact my bank to ensure that they would allow the transaction to go through. Once they did, I had no problem making the payment.

A final word of warning, the payment portal is in French, but it should be easy enough to understand what needs to be done. If not, use Google Translate to understand what is being asked.

The End Is Coming
As I noted earlier, this is not meant to be for those who illegally obtain copyrighted materials and intellectual properties. But in the interest of making an interesting article, I did include information that would seem to oppose this. In my defense, there are times when perfectly legal downloads will be wrongfully considered illegal, and that is why I have described everything as I have.

Knowledge is only power if you have it.