“I Know What You’re Downloading” Overwhelmed With Fake DMCA Notices *TorrentFreak
Over a decade ago, TorrentFreak reported on YouHaveDownloaded.com, a new service dedicated to BitTorrent tracking.
Knowing that most BitTorrent-based sharing is done in public, the site’s operators harvested torrents and captured the IP addresses connected to them.
When we discovered the project, YouHaveDownloaded had 103,200 torrents in its database and IP address data on 51.2 million users. This platform was eventually shut down, but a site with the same name, IKnowWhatYouDownload, later emerged with similar functionality.
The tracking service has entertained and sometimes scared BitTorrent users for years, matching IP addresses to illicit downloads and even providing lists of IP addresses relating to specific content. It can show the countries where a torrent proved most popular this month or reveal content that is becoming popular everywhere today.
Users with dynamic IPs who research themselves may experience false alarms, but as a broad research tool operating in an underserved niche, the service works as advertised.
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on the site – especially hackers – will understand what the site is for. It’s a service that harvests and then publishes data related to the BitTorrent ecosystem (specifically DHT), so if that’s your thing, you won’t be disappointed.
Those looking for pirate downloads will find absolutely nothing of interest here. No torrent. No downloads. Not even a magnetic link. Anti-piracy groups and major entertainment companies came to a different conclusion five years ago and still haven’t changed their minds.
Anti-piracy experts unite in disagreement
After our first report on IKnowWhatYouDownload in December 2016, anti-piracy companies started reporting the site to Google, claiming it violated their customers’ rights.
DMCA notices spiked in February 2017 and a few months later began to level off. At the end of 2019, complaints to Google started to increase again and in January 2021 they suddenly started again.
At the time of writing, over 9,472 individual complaints targeting over 18,800 URLs have been submitted to Google, alleging copyright infringement that simply did not occur.
Worse still, nearly 50% of all complaints filed with Google contain URLs that were not even present in Google’s indexes when the takedown notices were sent. The search engine usually indexes all pages quickly, but in this case the URLs could not be indexed because they never existed in the first place.
Anti-piracy companies may have tried to predict where infringing links would appear in the future, fabricated the URLs and sent them to Google ahead of time, hoping Google would remove them before they appeared in search results. It may work against hacker sites, but it’s not a hacker site – it’s a database of hacker activity.
Other things make the continuous targeting of IKnowWhatYouDownload even more disconcerting.
Demo project to show data availability
Although the service is a fully functional BitTorrent data portal, it is actually a live demonstration of what can be achieved using data collected by PeerTrace technology equipment. Due to the way the data is collected, it is not suitable for prosecuting BitTorrent users, but if the copyright holders wish to access the available data, they can.
PeerTrace data is also available to law enforcement and, as we already know, is useful for people generally interested in how content is distributed using BitTorrent, by whom and where.
It’s the kind of data that could prove useful to anti-piracy and entertainment companies, but beyond that, it’s also driving legitimate consumption. Each page of the site referencing data for a specific film contains links to the Kinopoisk legal streaming portal.
Verification of the actual infringement?
As things stand, there’s no sign that copyright complaints will end anytime soon. French anti-piracy group ALPA, anime company Toei, Disney, Sky, Canal+, Columbia, Irdeto, Fox, Lionsgate, Sony and Netflix have all filed infringement complaints – and that’s just a small sample of the 42-page list of rights holders published by Google.
IKnowWhatYouDownload owner Andrey Rogov believes companies search for filenames that match their content and consider it sufficient to file a complaint.
“I think a lot of companies (copyright holders) set up automatic systems that search for pages with torrents with their content (movie, series and other),” says Rogov.
“Usually they write to us with an automated email and we reply that we don’t distribute content. But probably some just write reports to Google and that’s it. We don’t like it, of course, but I think there’s nothing we can do about it.
One thing we considered early on is that copyright holders might not search filenames themselves, but also BitTorrent hash values. By itself, posting hashes is not copyright infringement, but if a filename referencing pirated content appears on the same page as a “forged” hash value, it’s more likely that it is a pirate site than not.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t provide a credible explanation either. Rather than displaying the hashes of potentially infringing content, the hashes displayed on Rogov’s site (including in URLs) are internally generated and certainly not BitTorrent hashes.
Since Google is required to remove content based on complaints, approximately 46% of URLs submitted in DMCA notices so far have actually been removed from Google. This raises the question of when IKnowWhatYouDownload’s search ranking will suffer after being wrongly labeled as a pirate site.