Virgin Media Trials File-Sharing Monitoring Tool


One of the UK’s leading ISPs has broken ranks with its fellow service providers and is trialing a tool that can monitor illegal file-sharing over the internet

The furore over Lord Mandelson’s strategy to deal with illegal file-sharers has grown after it emerged that Virgin Media is trialing new technology from Detica that will allow it to monitor file sharing over the internet.

The Government set out its plans to cut off illegal file-sharers in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, with the Digital Economy Bill, which gives Lord Mandelson the ability to get tough on file-sharing. But it has drawn the wrath of the UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) and ISP TalkTalk.

Now it seems that Virgin Media has broken ranks with the news that it is trialling technology from data collection specialist Detica. However it was quick to point out that the system does not identify individual offenders.

“Detica CView will help the UK’s ISPs and creative industries to understand the level of digital piracy in the context of new commercial services and piracy measures,” said Detica. “It has the potential to measure file-sharing across all UK ISP networks, paving the way for ISPs, the creative industry and the government to better collaborate, understand and respond to the digital piracy challenge as outlined in the Digital Britain report.”

Cview that apparently uses a form of deep packet inspection technology, but removes any IP addresses at the outset so that no activity can be tied to individual customers. It will work on aggregate traffic and looks to determine the proportion of file-sharing traffic that infringes copyright.

Cview will identify the peer-to-peer packets and look inside them, to determine what is, and what is not licensed. It will use data supplied by the record industry.

It is reported that the trial will cover approximately 40 percent of Virgin Media’s network, and those being monitored will not be informed. Virgin Media emphasised that any data on the level of copyright infringement will be aggregated will be anonymous.

Despite this, the trail is likely to raise the ire of privacy campaigners, including the likes of Stephen Fry, especially as CView’s deep packet inspection is the same technology used by the Phorm advertising system trialled by BT, which permitted the monitoring and targeting of individual internet users, also without their consent. 

However, Virgin Media and Detica argue that the new service could help ISPs meet some requirements of the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill.

“The Digital Britain report set out some bold targets to reduce illegal file sharing on ISP networks, but until now measuring the extent of the problem has been based on conflicting consumer surveys and speculation,” said Andy Frost, director of media at Detica: “We hope the launch of Detica CView will pave the way for stronger collaboration between ISPs and the media industry, by enabling all parties to more accurately measure the success of shared initiatives, reduce digital piracy and provide an unparalleled level of accuracy.”

“Understanding how consumer behaviour is changing will be an important requirement of Virgin Media’s upcoming music offering and, should they become law, the Government’s legislative proposals will also require measurement of the level of copyright infringement on ISPs’ networks,” said Jon James, Executive Director of Broadband at Virgin Media.

Author: Tom Jowitt
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