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[liberationtech] Concept for takedown-resistant publishing

Joss Wright joss at
Thu Feb 2 07:02:31 PST 2012

> Torrent files are slowly being replaced by magnet links. The next
> problem is that most browsers don't understand magnet links, so unless
> you have a BitTorrent client installed, the links won't take you anywhere.
> So it might be interesting to think about embedding a small BitTorrent
> client in the browser to handle magnet links. It would need to be
> embedded because once the torrent's finished downloading you want to
> unpack it and view it in the same browser window where you clicked on
> the link.

>From a practical perspective, I think that the use of magnet links with
an embedded browser is an interesting way to make certain documents
harder to censor, as a supplement to the web but not in place of it.

I'm not sure that anyone has proposed this, but remember that the
majority of users' active web browsing experiences are not concerned
with the retrieval of static pages, but instead making specific requests
that are handled and packaged by the web server before being sent to the
user.  (Just accessing Google's main page isn't very interesting, it's
access to the search results from their database, which we get by
interacting with the main page that is important. Reading a news site
typically gets you a set of articles drawn from their database on
demand, that are formatted to create the page as you see it.)

This means that the BitTorrent approach is useful for accessing static
documents, but not (in general) for what we would consider web browsing.

There are therefore three problems with this BitTorrent-style approach, The
first is the standard bootstrap problem -- how you get that first link
into the system. This wouldn't seem to be the main issue, as a 'seed'
link could be bookmarked for long-term availability. (I imagine it would
be harder in practise, but let's leave that problem there.)

The second is that it's trivial to censor BitTorrent at the protocol
level. Web browsing is easy to censor as well, but the average user's
view is that the web is equivalent to the internet. If you block the web
as a whole then you will upset all internet users. Blocking BitTorrent
as a whole is much less of a concern. More subtly, BitTorrent is
reasonably trackable and would leak the information of who is accessing
what -- not something you really want for access to documents that your
powerful adversary is trying to block. 

The third. and really the major, problem is that if using BitTorrent in
this way actually results in using the traditional web for traditional
web usage, and BitTorrent, either via .torrents or via magnet links, for
censored or blocked documents, then you haven't actually moved a long
way from simply having a BitTorrent client integrated with your web
browser. That simply results in the method of bypassing censorship for
static documents that is already widely in use today. 


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