Talking tech since 2003

BitTorrent––the company that invented the BitTorrent protocol and specializes in central server-less products––has opened the doors to their Pre-Alpha app Bleep. Bleep allows users to communicate through text or voice without having to pass their information through a centralized server, thus enabling a privacy not provided by other chat services.

Here's what the interface looks like.
Here’s the interface.

I, like most people, shy away at the notion of anyone spying on my conversations about whether or not to get pizza or Chinese food (it’s a hard life), so I welcome the concept of Bleep. When information is sent through a central server, which is how communication applications do it, residual metadata is stored. This metadata could be viewed by the company that stored it, governments, or nosey hackers. With Bleep, absolutely no information is stored or recorded in any way. To quote: “As far as we’re concerned, anything you say is ‘bleep’ to us.”

For a full explanation as to how it works, see this explanation on the BitTorrent blog. But here are some of the basics: it’s peer to peer and can be characterized as a “fully distributed SIP” (Sessions Initiation Protocol); there’s no record of who’s calling whom because users find each other through “other nodes in the network; and all communication is end to end encrypted.

Bleep is currently only available for Windows 7 and 8, but will be developed for other platforms. As it is in Pre-Alpha, Bleep is not fully complete. Users are being asked to join in to work out all the bugs and kinks.

As for who’s going to be using it, BitTorrent markets Bleep as a great app for:

  • “Members of the diplomatic corps sharing private dispatches.”
  • “Businesses keeping communications confidential, safe from leaks, and safe from industrial espionage.”
  • “Journalists communicating with sources without exposing their identity or their content.”
  • Or, simply, “Friends keeping conversations amongst friends.”

Which sounds honestly fantastic to me. But, of course, there’s an uglier side. While privacy is a notion entirely worth sacrificing for, it’s impossible to ignore the less noble ends that Bleep will undoubtedly be used for. Organized crime, drug dealing––all that wag-of-the-finger no-no stuff. There is simply no question that Bleep will be used for these types of illegal activities. I think that living in a world free of whimsical surveillance is vital to maintaining the moral integrity of said world, but it’s an issue worth very serious consideration. The fact of the matter is that more surveillance catches more bad guys, and that’s what makes it so tantalizing. How do you feel about the issue?

Internet privacy is being forced more and more steadily into the spotlight, and it’s not going to go away. My curiosity lies in how it will be received by those who would be most likely to oppose it, i.e those that benefit from the current system. There’s nothing illegal going on, so there really can’t be much to seriously object to. But I’m sure, if the app really took off, some kind of opposition would emerge. Because isn’t that just the way of things? Bleep is a manifestation of the frustrations of the post-Snowden era, and I fully expect similar services to emerge in all corners of the internet. For me, as soon as it works on a Mac, I’ll be downloading it.

If you’re interested in using Bleep during it’s Pre-Alpha, you can sign up here.

[BitTorrent Blog]

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