After reading today about the launch of Sky’s new broadband movie & sport download service, available free to Sky customers, I decided to take them up on the offer.
Who wouldn’t think the idea of being able to download hit movies legally, for free wasn’t a good one?
Admittedly, the installation was a little long-winded.
I don’t use Windows Media player, so I only had installed what came with SP2, version 9?
I was forced to upgrade to 10. OK, fairs fair. Not a big deal.
Then after that further DRM updates were required, OK, fine.
The layout is clean, crisp and pleasing to the eye. Very professional.
The list of available movies was impressive, basically everything that is currently showing on the 11 Sky Movie channels, available to download and watch at the touch of a button instead of waiting for the next showing on the TV.
So, I set about downloading possibly Jim Carreys biggest flop, The Cable Guy. Don’t blame me, I haven’t seen it before and I like Jim, I’m curious.
It’s quite surprising that the movie, encoded at 860kbps has to be downloaded in its entirety before it can be viewed. This particular film is 471MB in size.
No problem, I think to myself, 10MB connection, 461MB can be done in less than 15 minutes or so.
Or so I thought.
The download didn’t start off too well, around about 4KB/s, periodically jumping to around 44KB/s before losing it again. Considering my connection can do >1000KB/s, this made me scratch my head a little.
After about 15 minutes, it had gotten no faster. To download movies at that rate will definitely not implore many people use this service over illegal P2P services.
I couldn’t figure out why it was so slow, and it was almost time for me to call it a night, so the Sky by Broadband program was terminated and I went about my business, Gmail being my first stop, naturally.
I like to monitor my bandwidth at all times, what is uploading and what is downloading at any one time, it lulls me into a sense of security, like I have complete control over my PC. So I run a program called ‘Dumeter‘. It sits just above my clock in the bottom right hand corner of my screen and it displays how fast my NIC is currently downloading and what it is uploading.
Although I had no programs open other than the Firefox browser, my upload rate was around 10KB/s and download rate 30KB/s. Very odd, was my first thought.
So, I open up the command prompt and use netstat -o to view all currently open connections.
Showing in there are connections to other clients, localised to the UK. No servers, just clients.
I match the PID’s that are showing in the command window to a the PID of a program running in the background from the Windows task manager called ‘Kservice.exe’, a program that I am unfamiliar with. This is unusual as I like to be acquainted with all processes that are running on my machines, nothing should be running if I don’t know what it is.
A quick Google of the process name brought up results that to be honest, I was expecting.
This is part of Sky by Broadband. I assumed that it had not shut down properly, so was therefor still downloading my movie selection.
Terminating the application worked fine. All traffic stopped and dropped to zero, as expected.
After poking around I found that KService was setup as a Windows service, set to start at boot. Something that as far as I was aware, I had not agreed to. Not explicitly anyway.
It is looking more and more likely that Sky by Broadband uses P2P functions to deliver its content.
A quick scan of the terms and conditions at the Sky by Broadband website almost confirms this;
7. Uploading Content
If you download and save content to your computer system (a “File”), during the license period for the relevant File, we may upload parcels of content from the File from your computer system for the purpose of transferring Files to other users of the Service.
It is now that the plot begins to thicken.
I decided to install the Sky by Broadband client again, to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything telling me about the P2P aspect of the program.
I came across this little gem, quite incriminating, don’t you think?
No, you aren’t mistaken. Point 7, the only thing that even comes to admitting that P2P methods are used is mysteriously omitted.
The license agreement that all users are agreeing to are flawed, seriously flawed.
BSkyB are installing programs onto customers computers that have not been authorised.
The transfer side of the software appears to have been made by a company called ‘Kontiki‘.
Their company slogan is to ‘Distribute digital media faster and more securely while reducing video content delivery costs’.
Their clients include the BBC, I assume this is for their iMP that is currently in testing.
In essence, Sky have created a program that makes you think that you are downloading content directly from them, but really, it is a P2P system.
A P2P system that does not close when you exit the program but continues to share files and continues to eat into your bandwidth.
A P2P system that uses programs and methods that have not been implicitly implied in the TOS or T&C and does have major detrimental effects over both system resources and network traffic.
The BBC, with their iMP project have been implicit with their explanation of how the service works. In fact, the second question in their FAQ about the system includes the following line;
iMP uses peer-to-peer (P2P) technology to distribute the programmes via the Internet cost-effectively.
Unfortunately I am not on the iMP trial, so I cannot confirm whether or not it uses the same invasive methods to distribute its content.
For many users, the issue of bandwidth will be extremely relevant.
Many users have ‘capped’ broadband packages, whereby only a certain amount of data can be transferred per month. This amount of data usually combines both uploaded and downloaded data so Sky by Broadband sitting in the background happily transferring Spiderman 2 to Joe Bloggs in Preston may cause Mr N E Other in Portsmouth to go over his monthly allowance without him even knowing that is there doing this.
What I aim to find out;
In the same way as Sony were been brought to account over their ‘XCP‘ copyright protection in 2005 by Mark Russinovich of Sysinternals, I am launching the investigative campaign in the hope that Sky will increase the prominence of details about the way that the Sky by Broadband system works and how it will affect the users computer and network/internet connection.
I believe it to be irresponsible of BSkyB to allow users to have their connection to the internet utilised almost constantly without explicitly informing them of this.
I decided to give Sky a chance to field the question that has been burning throughout this investigation.
Are BSkyB openly acknowledging the fact that the Sky by Broadband service continues to act as a peer for other downloaders even when the client has been closed?
The answer is no. They are not.
Q: If I was to close down Sky by Broadband, does all downloading and uploading cease?
Firstly, the representative fed me something about having to be connected at the time whilst I was downloading. I don’t think she quite understood the question.
I reiterated the question and was put on hold for some 2 minutes.
When she came back to me, she answered;
No. If you close Sky by Broadband it does not continue to work.
This is untrue.
Either BskyB are not telling their first-line support the methods of the service, or they are intently obscuring it.