BitTorrent networks are networks of computers that connect to each other to share data and electronic files. These networks are also called peer-to-peer (P2P) networks because individual computers make up the BitTorrent network. These P2P networks are typically used to share and transfer large files such as television programs, video clips, and songs. To use the P2P network an individual has to use a BitTorrent client on their computer. A BitTorrent client is a computer program that runs the BitTorrent protocols.
How do these networks share files?
This discussion is not intended to be an in depth discussion of the P2P networks; rather it will provide a very general understanding of the process through a specific example. Let’s say you want to download a very large book. Prior to searching for the book, an individual computer (the seed) possessed the book and distributed the book to other computers (peers) on the BitTorrent network. Then you come along and search for the book and want to download it. All of the peers, in addition to the seed, provide you with “pieces” of the book. So from Peer 1 you get chapter one, Peer 2 you get chapter two, etc., until you have all the pieces of the book without regard to the order of downloading the pieces. The BitTorrent client program on your computer rearranges the pieces on your computer into the organized book. This type of P2P file sharing permits faster downloads with no slowdown of speed or use of bandwidth. It’s important to know that the novice user won’t know the peers in the P2P network and the BitTorrent client program preserves a portion of your hard drive for items on the P2P network, so that peers can now take pieces of data from your computer. In essence, you have to give a little to get a little or give a lot to get a lot.
Who uses BitTorrent networks?
BitTorrent networks have been used by universities to transfer large amounts of research data, bands use bittorrent networks to distribute their songs, and some podcasters. Public broadcasters have used the networks to distribute television programs and Facebook uses the network to distribute updates to Facebook servers. All sorts of organizations and individuals use BitTorrent networks.
So what’s the problem?
A large amount of pornography, including child pornography (CP), is available via the P2P networks. While adult pornography is legal, there are unconventional forms of adult pornography that might disturb the casual user of pornography. In addition, the P2P networks have become a valuable resource in distributing CP. These networks have made CP readily available to even novice users of pornography. In the pre-Internet era or in the early days of the Internet, an individual who wanted CP had to “be in the know” of how to obtain CP. Now, P2P networks have made CP extremely easy to stumble upon.
The easy access to CP has caused legal problems for many, many adult males and adolescent boys. Many of the adult men who are caught with CP tend to be frequent users of adult pornography and when they become bored with it, they might explore the network for more unconventional forms of pornography including CP. Sometimes this exploration is the result of downloading CP in a file that contains mostly adult pornography. While they never intended to download CP, they obtained it and viewed it. Once it is on their computer, they are now in possession of CP and can be charged with a crime. It does not matter the intention or lack of intention of downloading the CP.
Another group of individuals who find themselves in legal trouble for possessing CP are adolescents who find it on the P2P networks. Since the vast majority of pornography is now viewed on the Internet, children and adolescents have easy access to pornography wherever they go, including CP. While there is less concern if an adolescent male is viewing pornographic images of an adolescent female (even though it is illegal), these same adolescents have access to pornographic images of prepubescent (infant to 12 years old) children. This is extremely concerning given that the adolescent is going through their own sexual development and they run the risk of pairing sexual arousal to images of prepubescent children.
What to do?
Parents are strongly encouraged to discuss the problems with the P2P networks with their adolescent children, including the problem of pornography. Don’t be fearful that your discussion with them will prompt them to search out P2P networks because it is inevitable that they would find the network on their own. Your adolescent needs to know the dangers of the P2P networks if they are to make smart choices about their use of pornography.
Parents can also search their children’s phones for BitTorrent clients. If your child has a BitTorrent client on their phone then they are using the P2P networks and you need to know what they are searching for on the network. Again, don’t be judgmental, just listen. Sexual exploration is normal but adolescents need to know how to be smart about it. Some BitTorrent clients include Deluge, uTorrent, Vuze, BitComet, BitTorrent, and Tribler. While these are common BitTorrent clients, parents need to be aware that there are always new clients emerging into the marketplace. So parents should periodically review their children’s digital devices and research any unknown programs.