It seems anti-piracy groups like the MPAA and RIAA will soon be throwing parties. Security software developer McAfee has acquired a patent for a new technology that plans to prevent users from accessing pirated or illegal content on the Internet. The technology leverages McAfee’s widely-used SiteAdvisor tool to detect and block pirated material on the Internet and provide users with legal alternatives.

According to the patent description, the system is meant for “preventing (or at least deterring) a user from inadvertently or directly consuming illegal content on the Internet.” It employs a cloud-based blacklisting mechanism to filter content and detect if the link you just clicked is illegal or not. The system will then warn you of illegal content, block access to webpages, or offer purchasing advice. Threats are detected in web search results and even on social networks.

search results

McAfee's SiteAdvisor analyses your search results…

The patent adds that the technology could use a cloud-based system for centralised analysis of whatever you click. The system would use data from web crawlers or other blacklists to analyse content on the web and add it to its own blacklist. In short, the system can monitor which URLs you click, send those URLs to a cloud for “analysis”, and depending on how it is set up, show you a warning message, block access, or give you legal alternatives. This is very similar to Google warning you of malicious websites.

social networks

And your social network activity too

“By informing a user of illegal sources and possible alternatives, a user can obtain the desired electronic distribution without violating an author’s intellectual property rights,” McAfee writes.

McAfee hasn't indicated any concrete plans to launch this technology, but we think it will in all likelihood see the light of day. However, if such a product does in fact be developed, anti-piracy groups and copyright holders are bound to give it a heavy push.

warning screen

Besides letting you see why a particular link was blocked, SiteAdvisor may also give you other recommendations

And like any new service, it’ll probably irk people sooner or later. Consider this example given in the patent description: “A user at a client computer might enter terms “fighter movie” to mean a request for a movie download (Internet content) with the title fighter. Because movies, songs, books and software represent types of data generally available from unauthorized distributors, this type of search represents a type that should be further analyzed.” This means a simple query like the name of a movie or a song might trigger analysis of the search query, and if an innocent link happens to be blacklisted in McAfee’s cloud, you won’t be able to access it if the blocking mechanism is enabled. 

Moreover, your Internet connection speeds might also go down, as the software will obviously eat into your bandwidth while monitoring web activity. 

The only place we envision such a system will be useful is large organisations like schools, colleges and companies, where people can potentially abuse the organisation’s network to download illegal content. For individuals, we think it'll be more of a pain than a useful facility.

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