Interview with Niels Boeing, FT Deutschland
September 1, 2003
Niels Boeing: How far has the anonymous P2P development evolved?
GNUnet seems to be some time away from public use, Blubster's Manolito
P2P was repeatedly criticized for not being able to hide the IP address
completely. So I'd just like to know what's feasible right now and what's
Rupert Scammell: Compared to other 'Net technologies, anonymous
P2P nets are still very much in their infancy, although mainstream interest
seems to be growing as some of the teething problems seen in the early
anonymous network protocols and software get resolved. Specifically,
problems with network reliability, scalability, performance, and finding
information on the nets has kept the traditional user base of these systems
It's been shown time and time again that given a choice between a system
that provides anonymity and/or encryption, but sluggish performance, and
a system that provides little or no privacy protection, but more
information, and an easier search interface, people will sacrifice
privacy and security in a heartbeat.
I think that one of the lessons learned early on when anonymous P2P nets
began to be developed, was that performance decreased exponentially as
additional layers of privacy and anonymity were implemented.
Freenet is a classic
example of this problem -- early versions of the software were nigh unusable
, at least from the standpoint of being able to find information. It has been
quite some time since I've tried the system, but I understand that many
of the performance problems have been improved.
In the next few years, I predict that anonymous P2P nets will become as
prevalent, if not more so, than their unencrypted counterparts, such as
Gnutella, Limewire, and WinMX. Like any technology, migration from
unencrypted nets to their encrypted/anonymized counterparts will be
gradual. Encrypted links and stores will probably take a back seat to
anonymity as the software and nets move into the mainstream. People want
to share information with one another, but frequently would rather that
the information not be traceable back to them.
Ironically, the people and (mostly media) organizations who have
historically attempted to quash P2P technology development, are actually
promoting it in a backhanded fashion, as draconian legal and
technological actions encourage people to search for better methods of
keeping information flowing. The transition in the late 1990's from the
centralized sharing model of Napster, to decentralized P2P nets, is a
NB: What are the problems to be overcome?
RS: Getting people to transition from technology that they're
comfortable with, even if it's inferior. Technology change is driven by necessity.
Using the Napster example again, I doubt that we'd be seeing P2P nets
that are even a fraction of their current size, had the earlier method
of centralized sharing remained accessible. Also, people aren't willing
to switch to a new system unless it's equal to the old system in terms
of content, but there must be a substantial contingent of early adopters
in order to produce the content base. So, that Catch 22 is also
NB: Do you expect the content industry and internet providers to block
the use of anonymous P2P networks (at least future ones)?
RS: If their violent opposition to every major information sharing advance
since the development of the player piano is any indication, then yes,
definitely. However, I think that it'll be the content industry, rather
than the ISPs and backbones, taking most of the actions to suppress the
growth of the networks. Content on P2P nets plays a major part in
selling broadband connections, home networking equipment, faster
processors, larger drives, better video cards, and more memory. The
recent spate of subpoenas by the RIAA against file sharers using Kazaa
brought forth a counter-suit by SBC Communications (see
receiving well-deserved plaudits on Slashdot.org and other technology
news sites, it's clear that SBC's motive in filing such an action is
financial rather than altruistic. SBC, and other large
telecommunication companies such as Verizon, who's engaged in a similar
action against the RIAA, know that broadband (and, indirectly, the P2P
nets that sell connections) are increasingly responsible for a
substantial portion of their revenue. Allowing the RIAA and MPAA
carte-blanche to subpoena their customer base hurts their bottom line.
That being said, anonymous P2P nets aren't yet large enough to warrant
the same attention as the much larger conventional P2P networks, at
least yet. Expect the same attention to be lavished upon them in coming
years, when their user bases and amount of content warrant it.
Last modified: Sat Feb 5 12:24:19 PST 2005