October 03, 2003

Technology is not infallible: A case study of the RIAA pirate-tracking mechanisms

To many, science and technology are black magic, capable of accomplishing great feats but not very well understood. Thus, when a large organization with a strong PR engine (such as the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA) announces that it can identify users guilty of illegally sharing copyrighted materials over peer-to-peer networks, it seems natural for people to believe them. Technology is not, however, infallible. In the case of the RIAA, although the RIAA would certainly like us to believe that its pirate-tracking mechanisms are accurate, this article shows that such a belief is not justified. Specifically, the article shows that the RIAA's tracking mechanisms could tag innocent people as copyright offenders. Indeed, the news media has already highlighted two cases in which this appears to have been the case. Even worse, the article shows that a malicious user could frame innocent users for copyright violation. Perhaps the important lesson from all this is that one must be very skeptical about technological claims. We need to evaluate new technologies with a much more critical eye. Posted by Tadayoshi Kohno at October 3, 2003 01:00 AM