BitTorrent Inc., the San Francisco company behind the most popular technology for sharing files online, is branching out into a new arena: snoop-proof calling and texting.
The company announced the availability of a preliminary, test version of BitTorrent Bleep software, which will enable people to make calls and send messages over the Internet without using a central server to direct traffic. Instead, users will find one another through groups of other users, with no records of the calls or texts stored anywhere along the way.
Once a connection is made for a call or text, the communication travels directly between the two computers involved. That peer-to-peer approach also defies mass surveillance. Granted, it doesn't pay to underestimate the National Security Agency's ability to monitor even well-hidden communications. But Bleep certainly makes the job harder than the most popular online calling and messaging apps do.
Bleep will be available only by invitation for now, the company said, because it still has plenty of rough edges. It's also limited to computers running Windows 7 or 8, although support for more platforms is coming.
Online calling and messaging services typically seek to preserve privacy by scrambling the communications between the sender and the recipient. The problem is that they rely on central servers to handle the electronic signals that establish the connection. The metadata that passes through those servers can be monitored or intercepted, potentially exposing the calls and texts to surveillance, as leaked NSA data has revealed about Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol services.
Bleep encrypts its traffic, too, and enables users to keep their identities secret even from those with whom they're communicating. But the main reason it's more secure, the company says, is because it has no central servers. "We are not even storing data temporarily on servers and then deleting it," Farid Fadaie, head of the Bleep project, wrote in a blog post Wednesday. "We never have the metadata in the first place."
Nor does anyone else. There are no central, surveillance-susceptible indices helping to connect one user to another. Instead, when User X tries to start a call or send a text to User Y, X's Bleep software asks other BitTorrent users if they know Y's IP address. Their query eventually reaches a computer that Y's Bleep software has made contact with, revealing Y's address. The information is sent back to X, enabling X and Y to connect directly.