Torrent Site Blocks Don’t Immediately Change Old Hacking Habits *TorrentFreak
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Blocking pirate sites is widely regarded as an effective tool in the fight against online piracy. But how effective is it? Data shows that a recent torrent site blocking order in the Netherlands had no visible impact on local download and sharing activity. Old habits apparently die hard; especially when there are still plenty of alternatives.
In March, a Dutch court ordered local ISP Delta to block access to torrent sites 1337x, LimeTorrents, YTS, RARBG, Kickasstorrents and EZTV.
In addition to the main domains, a long list of proxies and mirrors is also included. And if new domains appear, these can also be quickly blocked.
This is the second site blocking order in the Netherlands and a big win for local anti-piracy company BREIN. The anti-piracy group has spent over a decade blockading Pirate Bay and is now pressing with new demands.
With the help of a covenant signed last year, all major Dutch internet service providers have agreed to voluntarily comply with orders issued against rival ISPs. In addition to this, Google also helps by removing blocked sites from its search results.
Does site blocking affect torrent activity?
The wave of law enforcement efforts must be frustrating for local hackers, but does that mean they’re just giving up their old ways?
To find out how the March blocking order affected local torrent traffic, we used torrent monitoring service IKnow, which provides a daily snapshot of the number of people downloading files from BitTorrent. In this case, we only looked at the Dutch activity[*].
The data in question has nothing to do with website visits. It is simply a representation of the number of Dutch file sharers that appear in public torrent swarms on any given day, regardless of the origin of the .torrent files.
The blocking order was issued on March 24 and Delta was given five days to implement it. It’s unclear when each ISP began blocking, but major ISPs followed soon after. KPN had already implemented its blockade before the end of this month.
No visible blocking impact
If the blocking measures had an impact on torrenting activity, there should be a noticeable change in Dutch activity towards the end of March. However, the data does not reflect this at all. Between March 14 and April 24, torrent activity remained relatively stable and there is no visible decline.
These numbers suggest that people still know where to find torrents, probably through alternative sites that are still available. Or they found a way to bypass the blocks via a VPN, a generic proxy or any other tool.
It’s just not realistic to expect people to drop their one-year-old habits overnight. That said, blocking measures can reduce the number of people who start using these sites for the first time.
More blocks needed?
The lack of instant effect may be disappointing for rightsholders, but it’s not entirely unexpected. Academic research from Carnegie Melon University has shown that blocking only begins to be effective when a large number of sites are targeted. The more sites blocked, the greater the impact.
BREIN Director Tim Kuik is also aware of this and has previously pointed to this study, in part as motivation to continue blocking efforts.
“If an illegal source is made inaccessible, some of the traffic will shift to other illegal sources, but in practice this waterbed effect becomes less and less important if more sources are blocked. In combination with sufficient legal supply, illegal use decreases when you act against illegal providers,” Kuik said.
This is also the reason why BREIN has already started working on additional site blocking commands. The anti-piracy group hopes that when enough sites are included, piracy activity will eventually decrease.
*Note: Location data is based on IP addresses. The number of unique addresses per swarm is counted by Iknow. It is possible that foreign VPN subscribers with a Dutch IP address will be included. Although this would overestimate the number of Dutch IP addresses, this overestimate is consistent, which does not change the conclusions.