Are You Living With A Pirate?

Written by Anne Livingston,

Image: Grant Cochrane

Image: Grant Cochrane

Most parents are unaware of their kids’ pirating ways. A survey conducted by McAfee finds 31% of teens admitted to pirating movies. The same McAfee study finds less than 1 in 10 parents knew their teens hacked accounts or downloaded pirated content. For many parents, the first sign their child is a pirate comes from their service provider.

Dear High-Speed Internet Subscriber:

(Company) has received a notification by a copyright owner, or its authorized agent, reporting an alleged infringement of one or more copyrighted works made on or over our High-Speed Internet service (the “Service”)…

With the new copyright alert system adopted by AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, more parents may discover they have a pirate across the hall. Violating copyright law is probably not going to stop most teens from downloading a new game or movie. But downloading illegal content can cause more problems than an email from your cable or phone company.

Teens using peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing software may receive more than just a free movie. The way this software works is instead of downloading content directly from a company’s website, P2P uses its customers’ computers. Popular P2P software like uTorrent, Vuze, or Frostwire, just helps users connect to each other. The files themselves come directly from other users. Giving someone you do not know access to your computer increases both privacy and security risks.

Besides copyright, kids need to watch out for:


Popular P2P sites admonish users not to be leeches. A leech is someone who only downloads without contributing content. P2P sites need users to upload and share files. To avoid this label, kids may unintentionally share more than they should.

  • Never share the entire hard drive. A mobile device or the family computer contains a lot of personal information including financial and other sensitive information. Kids should never choose to share all of their files.
  • Change the default settings. Some sites automatically share everything in the “Download” or “Shared” file. Kids should create a new distinct folder and change their settings to only share this one folder.
  • Remember to always Log Out. Closing the window does not shut down these programs. Some of these sites stay connected unless a user Logs Out.


This is probably the biggest deterrent for most people. Downloaded movies, games, and shows may also arrive with spyware and other viruses. Spyware secretly collect personal information for targeting ads or other malicious uses.

  • Maintain security software. Most P2P software does not scan downloaded or uploaded files for malware. Make sure your device or computer has up-to-date security software that finds both viruses and spyware.
  • Check out users reviews. Some P2P software has adware with their toolbar.  Most of these P2P sites have robust user forums. Before using one of these programs, check out forums and reviews to identify potential problems.

Finally, although many of these sites are legal, some members use them for illegal purposes. One of the illegal purposes is to distribute pornography. To hide this content, these files are often intentionally mislabeled. Kids, trying to download the latest movie, may accidentally download something else.

Free content often comes with a hidden price. If you think you are living with a current or future pirate (and who isn’t?), make sure kids understand all of the risks. It is more than just copyright—pirates risk losing both their privacy and security.


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