What with the extent of the NSA’s spying now public knowledge, both individuals and organizations are keen to find ways to keep their communications secure. That’s led BitTorrent to launch a new experiment called BitTorrent Chat, a server-less chat system that follows its basic principles of decentralized data transfer.
As of today, BitTorrent is inviting users to sign up for its private alpha available at labs.bittorrent.com. It’s not clear how many applicants will be accepted, but most likely it’ll be no more than a few hundred at the most.
BitTorrent says that it isn’t entirely sure what this experiment will lead too, but it does sound enticing nonetheless – a server-less (and hopefully, spy-proof) chat feature that’s secure, private and just as importantly, free to use. BitTorrent Chat will work using the same BitTorrent protocol that underlies all torrent downloads, allowing people to send instant messages whilst remaining untracked. The company didn’t reveal exactly how the program will work, but according to CNet, its a bit “similar to BitTorrent Sync, a kind of private cloud storage system that syncs data between devices without it ever passing through a centralized server.
For now, anyone wishing to sign up will need to use a BitTorrent account, though the company says that if the experiment is successful, it ultimately wants to expand the service to other instant-messaging accounts too. It’s also not clear if the program will run on Windows, Mac, Linux or all three desktop operating systems, though it did say that mobile apps were being planned for the client.
What with privacy concerns at an all-time high, there’s likely to be quite a bit of interest in BitTorrent’s secure chat client. BitTorrent itself cites a recent report by Symantec as justification for the experiment, noting that over six million people have been impacted by data breaches in this year alone:
“In 2012, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) documented 447 breaches in the United States, exposing 17,317,184 records. In the first half of 2013, there have so far been 255 incidents, exposing 6,207,297 records,” says the report.
With its promise never to store instant messages on a server, BitTorrent Chat or something like it could take off among the more paranoid netizens out there. While companies like Apple and Skype insist that all data passing through its servers is encrypted, there has been speculation that the NSA possesses a backdoor into these firm’s servers that renders any encryption null and void – and of course we all know that these companies will have over data the instant they’re served with an appropriate warrant or court order.
However with BitTorrent Chat, that simply can’t happen. If there are no physical servers to be accessed, there’s nothing for BitTorrent to actually hand over and so no one can spy on your instant messages. At least, that’s what BitTorrent is trying to do anyhow, though whether or not it would be immune to clandestine data gathering programs like undersea cable tapping remains to be seen.