September 10, 2003

Kazaa usability problems lead to inadvertent file sharing

As noted in hundreds of sources online and off, the music industry's strident legal campaign against its customers rolled out this week in the first wave of lawsuits against "computer users who are illegally distributing a substantial amount of copyrighted music" (Cary Sherman, RIAA). One thing that struck me in the reports about individual users who were sued, is that they frequently characterize themselves as downloaders but not as sharers. Many also professed little knowledge of computers and technology, which I'm quite prepared to believe. I wonder how many of these users were sharing files without realizing they were doing so?

Last summer, when Nathan Good was an intern in Bernardo Huberman's group at HP Labs, he researched and co-authored a paper titled "Usability and privacy: a study of Kazaa P2P file-sharing". In the paper, the authors concluded that Kazaa's interface design was flawed in ways that led users to misunderstand and misconfigure file sharing.

"We discover that the majority of the users in our study were unable to tell what files they were sharing, and sometimes incorrectly assumed they were not sharing any files when in fact they were sharing all files on their hard drive."


"The results of 443 searches in 12 hours showed that unintentional file sharing is quite prevalent on the Kazaa network. 61% of all searches performed in this test returned one or more hits for [a mailbox file unlikely to be intentionally shared]."

For that matter, how many of these alleged "distributors" even understood that p2p networks are a two-way street? It's easy to see how non-technical people could miss this concept; downloading is an active process they explicitly choose to engage in, but uploading is completely passive and invisible to the user.

What a mess and a travesty. The individuals being sued have my sympathy and moral support. The EFF has my financial support. The RIAA and its music industry sponsors have earned my anger and contempt, and have now lost yet another customer who used to buy CDs.

Posted by Gene at September 10, 2003 11:59 AM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?