“If something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is”.

This phrase applies to so many aspects of technology that I see every day.  From scams to online competitions, if you use this outlook on your digital life, you’ll be safer online.

This brings me to digital movies.   We all like going to the cinema to see the latest releases, but for some, the possibility of downloading these new movies for free at home is all too alluring.

You’ve probably seen adverts for Android boxes which have unlimited downloads of the latest movies and TV shows, with no monthly cost!

How can this be?

The boxes usually use a form of “torrenting”.   BitTorrent was designed by programmer Bram Cohen, a former University of Buffalo student in April 2001 as a way to share large files, such as TV shows or movies.   It uses a network of “peer-to-peer” computers to distribute these large files around the Internet, making them easier to download but also easier to hide.  Instead of one big server or internet site hosting the file, it’s instead broken down into thousands of smaller parts and spread around the internet.

As of 2011, BitTorrent had 100 million users and a greater share of network bandwidth than Netflix and Hulu combined!   In early 2015, AT&T estimated that BitTorrent represented 20% of all broadband traffic

Today, it’s estimated that there are more than a quarter of a billion BitTorrent users!

However, BitTorrent does not offer users anonymity online.   If you use it to download a movie, it’s possible that your IP Address (your unique address on the internet) is being tracked.

And the movie studios are starting to clamp down on BitTorrent users.

I’ve seen emails to some of my customers in the past threatening court action for previous illegal movie downloads.   These emails were sent by the movie studios to Internet providers who then forwarded on to the end customer, threatening to shut down their connection.

Now the studios are detecting the IP address, getting a court order through the federal court of Canada and obtaining the customer’s name and address.

According to David Fraser, privacy lawyer on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet, “They can get a default judgment and they can go for the maximum, which is $5,000”.

“And that could become a lien on your house, that could become garnishment of your salary and it’s not something you can just hope will go away.”

In a tweet, he later stated:

“A #torrent of lawsuits are descending on Canadians accused of online file sharing. If you get one of these, it can’t be ignored. You’re actually being sued for #copyright infringement. More info here: https://t.co/RmqKvAA0cV

The way BitTorrent works, when you’re downloading a file, you’re also hosting it and also parts of other files.   Effectively you’re distributing content as well as downloading it – even though you’re not aware you are.    In the eyes of the studios, they don’t care – all they see is you’re illegally distributing copyrighted content.

It’s not just financially damaging to you either – a lot of files downloaded via BitTorrent have hidden viruses called “Trojan Horses”.    Although the file you’ve downloaded may seem legitimate, hidden inside could be malicious software which will infect your computer.

Additionally, as you’re hosting files as well as downloading them – the BitTorrent program uses your Internet connection in the background.  This can slow your internet connection to a crawl – and you’ll have no idea why!?

Not all BitTorrenting is bad though – Facebook uses BitTorrent to distribute updates to Facebook Servers, as does Twitter.

So next time you think about downloading a movie or TV show without paying for it, just remember, you’re being tracked and may soon be receiving a letter in the mail!