Tron’s BitTorrent Acquisition Could Destroy The Software’s Usefulness
BitTorrent is one of the most widely used p2p protocols on the internet, serving billions of people petabytes of data every week. It’s responsible for 3-5 percent of all internet bandwidth on any given day, and right now, several ICO companies are making bids for it.
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Why It Matters
Recent reports of Tron’s opening offer for the company that popularized peer-to-peer networks and decentralized services raises some serious concerns. We talked with Dogecoin creator Jackson Palmer about the potential for abuse and erosion of the BitTorrent protocol, and he had this to say:
“From what I’ve heard, there are several companies who have recently completed ICOs bidding to acquire BitTorrent Inc. It appears based on today’s news that Tron is one of them, which is alarming given that companies previous behavior including plagiarism of their whitepaper.
One of the key motivators I see for these ICO companies in acquiring a company like BitTorrent Inc. is the instant bootstrapping of a user base, on top of those 150 million active users. It would not surprise me if shortly after the acquisition, we’d see their ICO token integrated inside the BitTorrent/uTorrent clients. The side effect being that these projects can instantly claim to have millions of active users for their token ecosystem, without having to build that user base from scratch.”
In plain English, Tron and others probably want BitTorrent Inc. simply because they want to claim an active user base for their token without actually building anything. But the problems with a corporate takeover of the BitTorrent protocol doesn’t stop at marketing stunts. Palmer thinks that something more nefarious may be waiting in the wings:
“The more alarming side effect would stem from how they integrate the token. One possibility could be utilizing the ICO token as a method of payment for access to torrents, or distributing it to users who seed particular torrents. Integrating this into the clients BitTorrent Inc. maintain is one thing, but an even bigger concern is whether they would exert their influence to shoehorn their token into the BitTorrent protocol specification itself.”
Embrace, Extend, Extinguish
If an ICO company successfully acquires BitTorrent Inc., they could force users to pay for torrents with their token – crippling the existing network and its user’s ability to distribute data. ICOs are well known for perverting open-source development incentives, but strapping a token that has nothing to do with the protocol to an established p2p system has the potential to destroy it, as active users leave and developers fork off or build non-crypto alternatives. A BitTorrent Inc. acquisition could mean the end of BitTorrent as we know it.
Part of the problem here is the specification – while there are community management structures in place, they’re held together by BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen’s wishes rather than any formal legal or organizational structure. This means that upon acquisition, new versions of BitTorrent and uTorrent can close out the specification and extend it to include tokens and closed-source features. Palmer leaves us with this advice on preserving decentralized networks in the wake of corporate acquisition:
“I think the key to open-source protocols remaining decentralized is their complete detachment from for-profit entities. This would transpire in the form of loosely governed associations around a shared goal and specification. One potential is setting up non-profits, but formalizing the governance around these systems does tend to introduce politics and eventual uneven influence over how things are decided. A project I’ve seen recently that implemented loose governance that seems to be working is Mimblewimble/Grin who are building a next-gen cryptocurrency.
BitTorrent Inc. has been a bit of a mess as a company over the past few years, so it doesn’t surprise me that they’re trying to find a buyer and appease their investors. It’s just sad that in doing so they may be handing over the keys to the castle for the BitTorrent protocol. “
What do you think? Are you against BitTorrent being acquired by a crypto team? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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