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Economy influences how people use P2P file-sharing systems: Report

Researchers from Northwestern University conducted an unprecedented study to analyze the behavior of 10,000 anonymous BitTorrent users from all over the globe. The study was an effort to understand the file-sharing patterns of P2P users.

The types of files shared by BitTorrent users differ depending on the economic and political standing of the country the users are in, research reveals.

One of the senior authors of the paper, Luis A. Nunes Amaral, says that the specific types of content being shared in a given geographical region can give tremendous insight into the inner workings of that country.

"People in a given country display preferences for certain content -- content that might not be readily available because of an authoritarian government or inferior communication structure," he
said.

For example, countries with a high GDP, such as the United States, share small files like music. While poorer countries like Lithuania share large files, such as high-definition movies.

P2P file-sharing via torrent clients like BitTorrent is popular even in poorer cities or rural areas with no easy access to broadband because the service breaks down files into smaller pieces, making downloads more manageable and efficient even on slower networks.

Although user activity on services like Amazon or Netflix can be easily tracked and studied, an undertaking of this scale on anonymous P2P networks that share torrent files has never been done before.

The team made use of a BitTorrent app developed by Fabián E. Bustamante, professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, who is also co-leader of the study. The app Ono improves the performance of BitTorrent, while allowing allows users to voluntarily and anonymously submit data regarding their BitTorrent activity for use in research.

The paper "Impact of heterogeneity and socioeconomic factors on individual behavior in decentralized sharing ecosystems" was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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