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BitTorrent Behind Baffling, Bleak Bicoastal Billboards

It's "1984" all over again. That's the atmosphere BitTorrent Inc. tried to gin up over the past few weeks with a series of anonymous billboards posted around New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The billboards featured such Orwellian phrases as "The Internet should be regulated," "Artists should play by the rules" and "Your data should belong to the NSA."

BitTorrent, Inc.'s vice president of marketing, Matt Mason owned up to the billboards in a company blog post yesterday (Oct. 8) entitled "Maybe You Saw the Signs," explaining that the placards were meant to serve as both a social commentary on the state of privacy and as a re-introduction for a company that became famous for helping users illegally download movies and software.

MORE: 10 Best Desktop Bittorrent Clients for P2P Sharing

BitTorrent Inc. wants to break that old image while remaining true to its core values: user privacy, user control and decentralization.

"These statements represent an assault on freedom. They also, for the most part, represent attitudes Internet culture has accepted," Mason wrote. "We wanted to remind the world what's at stake on the World Wide Web."

The BitTorrent downloading protocol, which is open-source and hence freely available, works by breaking large files into smaller pieces and then allowing users to download those pieces from multiple sources.

As a result, large files can be downloaded much more quickly using the BitTorrent protocol than from a single server. More importantly, it makes it much harder for a data-hungry organization such as the National Security Agency to see what files users are downloading because the service is inherently decentralized.

Although maintaining and marketing its own BitTorrent client remains BitTorrent Inc.'s primary mission, the company has dramatically expanded its list of services.

New products include a browser plugin called BitTorrent Control that allows users to search, download and manage torrents from the Web; an Android app that allows users to find and download torrents directly on their phones; and BitTorrent Plus, a paid version of the free "official" BitTorrent client that expands its list of features to include anti-virus protection, file conversion and a built-in HD media player.

Perhaps the most exciting new products are still in development in BitTorrent Inc.'s labs. BitTorrent Sync allows users to sync an unlimited number of files between devices. Even better for privacy hounds, the service encrypts file transfers and never stores your files on the cloud, making it much more difficult for others to peek at your data.

Another new service, BitTorrent Chat, uses distributed technology to make texting more secure from prying eyes. Like BitTorrent Sync, Chat doesn't store messages on any server, and uses an encrypted peer-to-peer network. Although it's free, BitTorrent Chat is still restricted to a select few on the alpha waitlist.

"This is the generation that will decide whether the Internet is a tool for control, or a platform for innovation and freedom," Mason wrote. "A free, open Internet is a force for change, creativity; the backbone of a society where citizens are stakeholders, not data sets."

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