Those Mysterious NSA Billboards Were Actually BitTorrent Ads

October 8, 2013 | Andy Cush

Remember those billboards that popped up around town last week, ostensibly advertising things like the NSA and internet regulation? We knew the ads were part of a teaser campaign, and now, BitTorrent, Inc. is taking responsibility. That’s a lot more interesting than I was expecting.

The company unmasked itself today by altering the ads to show more internet-friendly messages: “The internet should be regulated” became “The internet should be people-powered,” “Your data should belong to the NSA” became “Your data should belong to you,” and so on.

“The idea was to give people pause for thought and the reactions have been great,” Christian Averill, BitTorrent’s director of communications, told ANIMAL. “There have been great discussions on these issues in social channels without our participation. Most people understood what we were trying to get across.”

BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing system that allows users to quickly transfer large amounts of data over the internet. It’s efficiency for uploading and downloading things like albums and movies has made it a popular tool for piracy, to the point where “torrenting” has become a kind of shorthand for “illegally downloading.” That’s something that the company is trying to move away from with this campaign, and with the introduction of new consumer- and creator-facing services.

“Those in tech circles understand the difference between acts of piracy and BitTorrent technology…but because our protocol underpins the Internet, it is hard for mainstream folks to understand it,” Averill said. “This is a way to help create broader awareness.”

(Photo: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)