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Major Flaws Found In Recent BitTorrent Study 167

Caledfwlch writes with a followup to news we discussed a couple days ago about a study that found only 0.3% of torrents to be legal. (A further 11% was described as "ambiguous.") TorrentFreak looked more deeply into the study and found a number of flaws, suggesting that the researchers' data may have been pulled from a bogus tracker. Quoting: "Here's where the researchers make total fools out of themselves. In their answer to the question they refer to a table of the top 10 most seeded torrents. ... the most seeded file was uploaded nearly two years ago (The Incredible Hulk) and has a massive 1,112,628 seeders. The torrent in 10th place is not doing bad either with 277,043 seeds. All false data. We're not sure where these numbers originate from but the best seeded torrent at the moment only has 13,739 seeders; that's 1% of what the study reports. Also, the fact that the release is nearly two years old should have sounded some alarm bells. It appears that the researchers have pulled data from a bogus tracker, and it wouldn't be a big surprise if all the torrents in their top 10 are actually fake." They also take a cursory look at isoHunt, finding that 1.5% of torrent files come from Jamendo alone, "a site that publishes only Creative Commons licensed music."
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Major Flaws Found In Recent BitTorrent Study

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  • Honestly... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Theoboley ( 1226542 ) <theoboley@hotmai ... m minus math_god> on Monday July 26, 2010 @03:53PM (#33035594) Homepage
    Does this really surprise anyone?
    • Re:Honestly... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jgagnon ( 1663075 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @03:56PM (#33035638)

      It probably surprises the people that thought they could get away with presenting bogus data. ;)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dumbunny ( 75910 )

        Probably not. They probably got paid whether the misinformation eventually gets called out or not. I'm sure they are quite happy with the mileage they got out of their "study."

      • by Kagura ( 843695 )
        It's strange that, even though their methodology was ridiculously flawed, they still gathered reasonably accurate results.

        Bittorrent isn't illegal, but does anyone honestly believe that at least 75% of all torrents or torrent traffic isn't accounted for by copyrighted material illegally being mass-distributed?
    • Re:Honestly... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:07PM (#33035778) Journal

      Problem is, most people who visit this site already know what this article is stating. They knew the study was bogus from the start because they are more in tune with torrents than the people doing the study. The issue arises when the "Recent Study" slamming torrents makes the 6:00 news and it makes a nice segway into how to combat piracy - however this article, showing that the data was incorrect and that they are either embellishing or straight up lieing, will get no mention on mainstream media whatsoever. The people who need to see this news won't see it, and the people who see this news already know. More tragic than ironic.

    • Re:Honestly... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @05:00PM (#33036662)

      Does this really surprise anyone?

      No, because most tech people instinctually know that filesharing is ethically right, and the rest don't care for facts either way.

    • Re:Honestly... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @05:26PM (#33037020) Homepage

      If the top 10 files were fake, they were not illegal. So by far most of the popular torrents are legal?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No surprise here, Theoboley

      In fact for the last few years I've questioned that glaring absess on the face of science " the study".
      ( anon cow costume on for karma protection from the guilty, misled, clueless and those incapable of unbiased view due to vocation, religion or dementia)
      Let's face it, a study is different than full blown research. Oddly enough though an article on a "study" will send the public off in dizzying new directions, convinced that physics has new rules, Bioscience has the cure for "fill

  • ...good we know who did (paid) the study.

    Lets simply go seeding instead of this discussion.

  • Move along (Score:2, Insightful)

    Nothing to see here.
  • by Tenek ( 738297 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:02PM (#33035700)
    Every few months when a WoW patch comes out and millions of computers torrent a few hundred MB. Hulk's got nothing on Night Elves.
  • Imagine that (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) <slashdot.uberm00@net> on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:03PM (#33035706) Homepage Journal

    Industry group ending in 'AA' pays to have study conducted that supports their views, doesn't care so much about accuracy.

    News at eleven.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:05PM (#33035734)

    Moral of the story.... don't trust seedy research.

  • by CajunArson ( 465943 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:07PM (#33035766) Journal

    One major problem with Bit Torrent is that you only get easy access to what is "popular" at any given time. I've gotten some TV show episodes (not available in the US) downloaded in a reasonable amount of time when I start the download within 24 hours of the original show being aired... but try to get the same episode 30 days later and availability drops in a hurry. Despite all the pro-P2P propaganda about how it "democratizes" data, it's really more a mob-rule popularity contest for grabbing the shiniest download.

    • by MindlessAutomata ( 1282944 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:12PM (#33035836)

      Get on a better site.

    • So, considering

      the best seeded torrent at the moment only has 13,739 seeders

      there isn't anything out there right now that goes over 1% of the popularity of the Hulk in it's prime? I somehow find that hard to believe.

    • by JustinRLynn ( 831164 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:15PM (#33035908)
      That's the thing about pure democracy, it is essentially the tyranny of the majority. This means that as a necessary consequence of a purely democratic download system only the most popular is the easiest to download. It's very similar to a free market, in that respect, in that it is exceedingly easy to get say, captain crunch cereal, versus something rarer, like say, unbleached nightshade flower. In a system where nothing is limited you can get anything you want, but it doesn't go hand-in-hand with being able to get whatever you want easily.
    • Depends on the content. If it's something popular, chances are people will keep sharing it. Or reshare it if the original torrents disappear.

      I just downloaded a few TV shows that aired 10, 14 and 21 years back, myself.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...really more a mob-rule popularity contest for grabbing the shiniest download.

      Right. What they said. It democratizes data. The data with the most popular support has the most popular support.

      That means that data people no longer cares about gets lost to time. Of course, it only takes one person out there to keep that data alive. It may be slow, a little harder to find, and the connection to it may be less robust, but it's still there.

      It also means if you get a community of people who don't want to see old TV and movies die, then everyone only has to host one or two shows and everyth

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by urdak ( 457938 )

      This is actually not true. I've often been downloading TV series and movies from the 60's, 70's and 80's, things I would never see on today's Television channels but bittorrent allows me to watch. Think of any tv show you liked as a child (or your father liked as a child), be it Star Trek (the original series), Little House on the Prairie or whatever - and you can watch it on bittorrent.

      • I've often been downloading TV series and movies from the 60's, 70's and 80's, things I would never see on today's Television channels

        Really? I thought there was at TV stations dedicated to older TV shows (TV Land []) and movies (Turner Classic Movies [] and AMC [])... assuming you live in North America that is.

        Heck, you can watch Star Trek TOS episodes directly on CBS's site last I checked.

        • by kent_eh ( 543303 )

          Heck, you can watch Star Trek TOS episodes directly on CBS's site last I checked.

          Assuming you live in the USA (or can use a proxy to pretend you are)

          But, to the GP's point, I am part of one of those small interest groups that has a few gigs of HD being used to keep some old, relatively obscure British shows alive.
          There's no way I (in North America) would have ever been able to see these without this technology.

          And another bonus of seeding old obscure stuff, the **AA type orgs don't seem to put any effort into hassling people about it. It's essentially abandonware. (and that I'm

    • That's because you're using a lawless public tracker. Things are different in a darknet.
    • Check if you get free Usenet access with your ISP, or purchase a Usenet account from time to time to download some of the older stuff. Although, even with 600+ days of retention, content falls through gaps.

      Keep on seeding/posting!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) *

      Despite all the pro-P2P propaganda about how it "democratizes" data, it's really more a mob-rule popularity contest for grabbing the shiniest download.

      Isn't mob rule exactly what democracy is all about? If there is little interest in a download then there will be fewer people seeding it. How else did you think democracy would work?

  • RIAA Plants Seeds of Inaccuracy- News @ 11.
  • Turns out it was actually 0.003%*. Sorry for the confusion.

    *All the legal transfers were of Ubuntu ISOs.

  • by arbiter1 ( 1204146 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:12PM (#33035848)
    I smell stench of MPAA's money involved in this. inflate the numbers to make things look worse for them just like the riaa does
  • C'mon, does anyone really think that 99.7% of all torrent traffic is illegal? Everyone knows that the REAL number is 99.99%.
  • by Dalzhim ( 1588707 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @04:22PM (#33035994)

    Some country's laws may flag a torrent as illegal while other countries consider it as legal.
    As an example, someone could be downloading a copyrighted song for backup purposes while owning a legitimate copy and these fools will automatically classify this kind of download an infringement.

    • Which is why an exemption that specifically allows you the right to back up your own CDs and move them onto whatever devices you own can trump your argument. If law enforcement is such that it is not illegal for me to do day-to-day activities on my computer with media I've legally acquired, then shutting down public trackers that make almost exclusively copyrighted material available is a possibity.

      I don't have a problem with this scenario. The exemptions provided to the DMCA today allow me to enjoy my medi

      • How about, give your software away to home users and license it to businesses? That way, people will use it, and then have to pay for it when they want to use it commercially, kinda like Photoshop.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mqduck ( 232646 )

      This goes for games, too. I've used BitTorrent to download another copy of lots of games I payed for long ago.

      Another factor to consider is that a pirate isn't necessarily concerned with backing up what they've downloaded. I know I've downloaded some games numerous times because I don't really worry about backups anymore if I don't have the original copy. Therefor, the number of times a torrent has been downloaded may give an inflated estimate of the number of pirates.

  • We are supposed to believe the analysis of a biased entity over professional researchers?

    What, exactly, are TorrentFreak's and Ernesto's qualifications to analyze the data? Do they have education or degrees that include statistical and/or numerical analysis of data?

    Or, did they read it and decide that it can't possibly be true because they don't like the results? Is it not in their best interest to promote the idea that the study is flawed?

    • The study wasn't a study at all. Torrentfreak at least knows more about BitTorrent than the people that made the report, if they were actually looking for a result that they hadn't already decided.

    • by ernesto99 ( 952105 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @06:31PM (#33037612)
      Ernesto here from TorrentFreak. I do have an academic background and used to teach statistics and research methods to (PhD) students. Not that it matters much, the comments I've made are pretty straightforward.
    • by Xtifr ( 1323 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @07:01PM (#33037836) Homepage

      We are supposed to believe the analysis of a biased entity over professional researchers?

      When the professional researchers conclude that "Music, movies and TV shows constituted the three largest categories of shared materials, and among those, zero legal files were found", we have to conclude that they didn't do a very good job, because there are at least two sites (Jamendo and Etree []) which allow nothing but legal music files, and both have tracked the exchange of many petabytes of data. (There are many more sites which limit themselves to legal material, but not to music--or TV or movies.)

      If I were to do an analysis of FTP, and then deliberately limited my study to "pirate" sites, I would come up with a hopelessly biased sample and useless numbers. It may well be that the legal torrent sites are statistically insignificant, but if they didn't study them, how can they conclude that? Assuming that they are is basically assuming your conclusion. It begs the question.

      I agree with your assessment of TorrentFreak, but a lack of credentials and credibility in a critic does not make a study legitimate.

  • The bad news... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Guess which study the lobby groups (and consequently our politicians) are going to cite, and which one they will ignore?

    It's too bad that there wasn't a way to attach this debunking to the original study, so that you would have to consciously ignore it. It will be really easy to lose these new findings in the shuffle.

  • This should not be surprising to anyone. Such studies are published mostly to keep laws up against file sharers, and companies (napster, piratebay and so on), so that ?PAA can justify their existence.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 26, 2010 @05:54PM (#33037398)

    Ars technica [] has actually asked the researchers about the issue. Here is the response from Paul Watters, one of the researchers:

    Thank you for your enquiry regarding our research report "Investigation into the extent of infringing content on BitTorrent networks". As researchers, we not only stand by the findings that we have arrived at, but - having made our methodology public - we are providing other bona fide researchers to replicate and/or dispute our findings. Their results can in turn be assessed through the peer review process; this is the process that normal research activity takes.

            You have raised some interesting points that are fundamental to the validitiy of any study in this area: the sampling strategy; verification of results and so on. We believe that our methodology was rigorously applied to the sample that we obtained. Over time, we will replicate the sampling process, so that we will gain better estimates of the population results. This is the fundamental tenet of statistical sampling.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ernesto99 ( 952105 )
      I (TorrentFreak) got the same response, they're simply ignoring the criticism and questions that I've asked. If they want to stand by bogus data that's their choice.
    • by lmnfrs ( 829146 )

      A response as soon as this is a good indicator, but I have a feeling, even though the Ars article notes other interesting points, the seemingly bad numbers will be focused on since a torrent site brought that point. Mr. Watters, even though your response makes sense, only 0.3% of Internet readers will realize you're not ignoring obvious fallacies. It's funny how much the speed of the Internet detriments the time put into considering the facts that make up the context.

  • So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by frozentier ( 1542099 ) on Monday July 26, 2010 @11:12PM (#33040048)
    I'm honestly not trying to troll of flamebait, but what difference does the "study" make whether it's correct or not? Those who use torrents are going to use them, those who don't will continue not to, and those who think torrent sites are the root of all evil will continue to think THAT way, too. If the amount of illegal activity is 10%, 50%, or 95%, authorities aren't going to lower their guns as long as there is ANY illegal activity.
    • This is actually a good point. Mod Parent up.

    • I'm honestly not trying to troll of flamebait, but what difference does the "study" make whether it's correct or not?

      Torrents are not, in and of themselves, currently illegal in the USA. This study will be used to support attempts to change that, or at least to try to induce ISPs to block torrents.

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