From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An anonymous P2P computer network is a particular
type of peer-to-peer network in which the users and their nodes
are pseudonymous by default. The primary difference between
regular and anonymous networks is in the routing method of their
respective network architectures. These networks allow for unfettered
free flow of information, legal or otherwise.
The P2P community's interest in anonymous P2P has increased
rapidly in recent years for many reasons, including distrust
of government (especially in undemocratic regimes), and digital
imprimatur. Such a network may also appeal to those wishing
to share copyrighted music files illegally - the Recording Industry
Association of America has successfully tracked and threatened
to sue some users on non-anonymous P2P networks.
Anonymous P2P as a misnomer The name anonymous
P2P is somewhat of a misnomer. This is because by design, a
network node must be pseudonymous since it must have an "address"
at which it can be reached by other peer nodes in order to exchange
data. However, usually this address, especially on anonymous
networks, does not contain any directly identifiable information.
Thus a user is highly, but not completely, anonymous. (In friend-to-friend
networks, only your friends can know that your address is used
to exchange files.)
When receiving data on any network it must come from somewhere
and data must have been requested by someone. The anonymity
comes from the idea that no one knows who requested the information
as it is difficult - if not impossible - to determine if a user
requested the data for himself or simply requested the data
on behalf of another user. The end result is that everyone on
an anonymous network acts as a universal sender and universal
receiver to maintain anonymity.
If people are only universal receivers and do not send, then
one would know that the information they were requesting was
for themselves only, removing any plausible deniability that
they were the recipients (and consumers) of the information.
Thus, in order to remain anonymous, one must ferry information
for others on the network.
Uses of anonymous P2P
There are many personal uses of anonymous P2P technology which
include: anonymous web surfing to prevent the tracking of visitors;
blocking governments from collecting lists of website visitors;
circumvent censorship by employers, ISPs, schools and government;
protecting whistle blowers.
Governments are also interested in anonymous P2P technology.
The United States Navy is financing the development of Free
Haven's Onion Routing Tor network for politically sensitive
negotiations and to aid in hiding the identity of government
employees for intelligence gathering work.
Anonymous P2P networks are also used for criminal intent, such
as the distribution of child pornography, which regularly spawns
heated discussions inside the communities, which each find their
own answers to that problem (A particularly open view is the
Philosophy of Freenet).
Views on the desirability of anonymous P2P
Proponents of anonymous P2P sometimes argue that such technology
is desirable and in some cases necessary to ensure freedom of
speech and the free flow of information. They claim that true
freedom of speech, especially on controversial subjects, is
difficult or impossible unless individuals can speak anonymously.
They argue that if anonymity were not possible, one could be
subjected to threats or reprisals for voicing an unpopular view.
This is one reason why voting is done by secret ballot in many
Opponents argue that while anonymous P2P systems may support
the protection of unpopular speech, it also protects illegal
activities not protected under free speech, such as fraud, libel,
the exchange of illegal pornography, the planning of criminal
activities, distribution of untraceable spam, or denial-of-service
attacks. They hold that the advantages offered by such systems
do not outweigh these disadvantages, and that existing communication
channels are already sufficient for unpopular speech.