AT&T gets patent to monitor file-sharing traffic

Internet provider AT&T has patented a new form of technology that would allow the company to accurately track what content being shared via BitTorrent and other P2P networks. AT&T explains that the technology can be used to detect downloads and combat congestion on its network.However, there is no word on if the company is already using the system to track content or if it has plans to do so.

In America alone, BitTorrent  accounts for one-third of all upstream traffic during peak hours.Such high usage  has drawn interest from Internet providers over the years, but it would appear that AT&T is looking to take its interest to a new level.

A patent was awarded to the Intellectual Property division of the company describes a system that can accurately measure the flow of legitimate internet traffic whilst also monitoring infringing traffic.

The patent, titled “Method and apparatus for automated end to end content tracking in peer-to-peer environments,” covers an advanced monitoring system that can detect how often a certain title is downloaded. AT&T goes on to say that this information can be used to address network congestion or counter piracy.

The flow-chart below shows the various steps involved in the detection and tracking process.


The system described by AT&T focuses on torrents specifically, which are gathered from search engines and  through RSS feeds. Discovered content is then collected in a database and the system will then download the torrent and will record the information on the people who are downloading the torrent.

In the patent AT&T notes that peer-to-peer traffic accounts for a large percentage of traffic generated on the Internet, some of which results in a loss of revenue for copyright holders.

“For example, some content may be legitimately purchased and downloaded by users via P2P. However, some content may be pirated and illegally copied and distributed P2P violating copyright laws and reducing revenue for the content producers and distributors,” the company explains.

AT&T’s system will be able to detect what is most downloaded on P2P-networks, suggesting that this information can be used to track and counter piracy.

“The present disclosure automatically tracks content that is downloaded in a peer-to-peer environment. In doing so, the present disclosure automatically identifies the most popular content titles to monitor and tracks and identifies a number of unique peers for each of the content titles.”

In addition, there is a content analysis component that will verify whether the downloaded files are indeed what the title suggests. This will be useful to filter out spam files and viruses that are mislabeled as popular videos or music.

“Based upon the verification, the list may be modified if the content titles actually being downloaded do not match the content titles in the list. For example, the content titles in the list may be looking for a recently released movie; however, the actually downloaded content titles may be a television show that had an identical title or may be a peer attempting to disseminate a virus under a disguise of the content title and so forth.”

The patent doesn’t go into detail on the intended purpose of the tracking, but AT&T specifically mentions that it can be used to track infringing downloads and address network congestion.

“The present disclosure may be used to determine which content titles are being illegally distributed and by whom. In another example, the present disclosure may be used to determine which content title downloads are creating the most network congestion. This information may in turn be used for capacity planning and the like,” the patent reads.

Original story by TorrentFreak.

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