AT&T Gets Patent to Monitor and Track File-Sharing Traffic

Internet provider AT&T has patented a new technology that allows the company to accurately track content being shared via BitTorrent and other P2P networks. The company explains that the technology can be utilized to detect pirated downloads and combat congestion on its network.


In the U.S. alone, BitTorrent transfers account for one-third of all upstream traffic during peak hours. This massive network use has received plenty of interest from Internet providers over the years, but AT&T is planning to take it to the next level. AT&T has described a system that can accurately measure the flow of both legitimate and infringing file-sharing traffic.

For the system, AT&T has applied for a new patent called “Method and apparatus for automated end to end content tracking in peer-to-peer environments” that covers an advanced monitoring system. This advanced monitoring system is able to detect how often a certain title is downloaded. AT&T says this information can then be used to address network congestion or counter piracy. Here is the flow-chart showing the various steps involved in the detection and tracking process.

AT&T Torrent Tracker

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 system will record information on the people who are downloading.

In the patent AT&T has 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. 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.

However, 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 patent reads, “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.”

While there are many outfits that track BitTorrent and other file-sharing traffic, until now we are not aware of any ISPs that have shown interest in this type of monitoring. AT&T is certainly the first company to be granted a patent for such a specific P2P monitoring system.

Whether the provider has intentions to actively scan for and throttle pirated content being shared using BitTorrent is unknown. With the patented system it could certainly do so, and if it targets infringing traffic only it does not violate FCC’s net neutrality rules.

Courtesy: Torrent Freak

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