BitTorrent's attempt to make instant messaging more private by default took a step closer to reality with the release of BitTorrent Bleep for Mac and Android on Wednesday.
As promised by BitTorrent at the end of July, those versions join the. Bleep differs from most instant-messaging services in that it uses torrent technology to encrypt the message end to end, all the way from sender to receiver and through however many computers act as intermediaries. Bleep is still in the early stage known as alpha, which means that it's buggy and unstable, but that's expected to change as BitTorrent continues to develop the app.
The alpha builds of Bleep for Windows, Mac and Android are now open to all -- previously, you needed an invite to test Bleep. The system can also be used to make voice calls. You can import Google address book contacts, or invite friends over email, SMS, QR code or a public code. Inbound messages can be received across all devices -- that may sound like a key feature, but remember, this is an alpha and not the final product.
BitTorrent is the company behind the torrent protocol, which creates a system to distribute enormous amounts of data by relying on users' computers and not a single, centralized server. Bleep was built with that decentralized concept in mind, but it adds end-to-end encryption to a notoriously difficult-to-encrypt form of communication: instant messaging.
Jaehee Lee, the senior product manager for Bleep, warned in a blog post that there are several major bugs in Bleep. He cautioned that to save battery life Android users must set the app to "Wi-Fi only" unless they have an unlimited data plan. Usernames can be moved from desktop to mobile, but not mobile to desktop, and there are problems with viewing sent messages on multiple devices. Asynchronous chats, in which one recipient is offline, don't work yet.
Although BitTorrent revealed some details in July on how the app functions, Bleep's head of product, Farid Fadaie, explained more in a second blog post today that delved into how Bleep handles creating and authenticating user identities, joining the Distributed Hash Table that powers the decentralized Bleep network, protecting message metadata, managing private invitations and creating the secure, encrypted tunnel through which the message travels. These are all issues that are made much more complicated because of Bleep's end-to-end encryption.
If BitTorrent can succeed in building Bleep's encrypted instant message clients and network for multiple operating systems, and can convince enough people to use them, the resulting system could well solve one of the most important privacy questions of the day: how to enshroud a previously open form of messaging in a hard-to-break bubble of privacy.