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While researching stuff for a presentation I’m doing this week on a related topic, I happened across usage statistics for the Tor network, from which I made a few speculations. Basically the global stats reveal an increase of approximately 270,000 users since January 2010, and there are huge spikes in network usage every few months, lasting 1-3 days, from the United Kingdom and the United States.

The largest spike in activity occurs in early January 2012, and this appears in the graphs for the UK and the US, suggesting a response to an event common to both countries, rather than a regional political thing. More specifically, the timing suggests a relationship to the Stop Online Piracy Act or the MegaUpload takedown. Another survey claims the usage of a certain P2P network also doubled around this time.
The next biggest occured late November 2011, again in the UK and the US, around the same time the unaccountable and not very transparent Internet Watch Foundation got Fileserve blocked, according to the EFF Deeplinks blog.

So, my theory is the peaks in network usage were associated with file sharing, or more accurately they were a response to news reports about SOPA, ACTA, MegaUpload, Fileserve, censorship, etc. In the next couple of months, the metrics could reveal a massive spike attributable to the blocking of The Pirate Bay.

What to Expect
I’ve rescaled the graph and attempted to draw best fit lines across the peak and average usage trends in order to make some projections for 2015. As it stands, peak usage grows by roughly 5,000 users each year. By January 2015, it’s expected to number 35,000 (UK & US) users, and around 20,000 users during normal periods. The number of people using P2P and VPNs is also rapidly increasing.

The high court’s recent order to ISPs for bloking The Pirate Bay seems a deeply unpopular move, judging by the comments across a number of sites that covered the news, including The Guardian and Sophos Security. The move was requested by a handful of lobbyists against the wishes on the majority of Internet users.

One thing to watch is the government’s plan for some pornography opt-in system. We could assume the
majority of people access pornography at least occasionally, and they’ll find ways of doing that without adding their names to the proposed opt-in list. The outcome would be the use of Tor, P2P, VPNs and proxies becoming mainstream.

Another outcome, this one from media industry lobbying, is mainstream ‘artists’ would only get exposure through official sources. Sales will continue to diminish, because of the economic climate, because the media industry’s gaining a reputation for its contempt of public opinion and rights, and because that’s to be expected when selling shit music through an obsolete business model. Neither the lobbyists or the authorities anticipated the wider implications of state-enforced denial of service. I believe this will eventually stunt most products and services relying on the client/server model, such as cloud computing.