Torrenting is a great way to quickly download content, but it does bring a few privacy concerns. When you use a public BitTorrent tracker to torrent a file, your IP address is visible to everyone.
A private torrent tracker may seem to be a safer option for torrenting files. But does it really protect your privacy? The answer is not clear-cut. You need to compare the differences between public and private trackers to decide which one is the best option for your torrenting needs.
What Is a BitTorrent Tracker?
Here is a quick overview of how these trackers work. When you download a torrent file and open it in your BitTorrent client, the client accesses a variety of details about the data that you want to download, including the tracking server responsible for managing P2P communication.
The tracker keeps track of the IP address of each BitTorrent client either downloading or seeding the torrent file. They allow clients to efficiently download and upload files on a P2P network. Basically, they help peers find each other.
After opening a torrent file, your BitTorrent client connects to the tracker. The tracker then lets your client connect to other clients containing the file fragments that you need to download.
The tracker is not responsible for relaying data. It is not a proxy or a file server. It is simply connecting peers to create a swarm of users who want to download and share the same data.
Public Trackers Are Open to the Public
Trackers are either public or private. Most people use public BitTorrent trackers. When you browse a list of files on a popular torrent website, you are browsing files tracked by a public tracker.
The person creating the torrent file is responsible for adding tracker information in the header data of the file. This is the information read by your BitTorrent client when attempting to connect to other clients.
Anyone can access the public tracker and the list of IP addresses connected to the server. ISPs and copyright watchdogs occasionally monitor these trackers to detect illegal downloading.
If you want to mask your IP address while torrenting, you need to use a VPN service. The VPN creates a secure, encrypted tunnel and all traffic passes through it, including your connection to a BitTorrent tracker.
Private Trackers Are Invite-Only
A private BitTorrent tracker is not open to the public. It is a tracker maintained by a large community and it requires an invitation. There are many private trackers that cater to specific interests. For example, you may find a BitTorrent tracker dedicated to gaming or another that only tracks music files.
You cannot torrent a file that is managed by a private tracker without getting invited, which means that others should not be able to eavesdrop on the files getting torrented. This offers a minor boost to your privacy but it is not the primary reason to use a private tracker.
Private trackers typically have a better selection of files for their niche interest. You may be able to track down files that you cannot find elsewhere, such as a rare old-school computer game.
The groups that maintain private trackers also tend to have standards when it comes to the quality of files. They do not allow inferior copies of content to get shared through their trackers. For example, some private trackers that are dedicated to music may only share lossless audio.
Private tracker groups also have strict requirements for their users, including rules for seeding. As they require users to fully seed files, you tend to get better download speeds compared to public trackers.
Is a Private Tracker Safer Than a Public One?
It is true that fewer people have access to your activity when you download through a private tracker. However, it's important to keep in mind that the private BitTorrent tracker does not automatically guarantee your privacy. The other users in the group can still view your IP address and location. The only increased privacy you get comes from the fact that people need an invitation to access it. If you plan to use a private tracker, you should still consider using a Virtual Private Network.
It can also be difficult to join a private tracker. In some cases, you need to be invited by a current member. After getting invited, it's a common thing to go through an interview process.
If you join, you then need to follow their guidelines, which often includes rules for maintaining leeching-to-seeding ratios. When you finish downloading a file, you need to continue uploading until you reach a specific ratio. If you don't follow such important rules, you risk getting banned.
In the end, a private tracker does not add privacy. It simply offers access to a private community. You should not try to join one if your only reason is to torrent anonymously. You can (and should) do that with a VPN.
However, if you want to join a community that only shares high-quality content, you may want to start searching for a private BitTorrent tracker.