Brilliant CEO: Nothing to hide

Kevin Bermeister's company has been caught in an instant controversy about including Net downloads with the Kazaa file-swapping software. Here's his take on all the fuss.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
5 min read
Kevin Bermeister's Brilliant Digital Entertainment has become a household name in Internet circles almost overnight.

But the company's chief executive didn't plan on it happening so quickly. Brilliant, a small, California-based software company, has sold 3D advertising and modeling software for several years. But Monday, the company revealed that it had entered a more ambitious business, called Altnet, aimed at distributing content online using peer-to-peer technology.

The move proved instantly controversial--not so much because of the idea itself, but because of the way Brilliant set about carrying out its plan: Bermeister struck a deal to bundle bits of software along with the Kazaa file-swapping software, which is downloaded millions of times every week.

As that software finishes downloading, it gains the capacity to link ordinary computers into a massive new file-swapping network controlled by Brilliant. The company plans to use it for distributing secure content such as movies, music or advertising, or to perform complicated "distributed computing" functions.

Some of this has already been spelled out in Brilliant's terms of service distributed with Kazaa. Bermeister says he will be scrupulously careful about notifying people of exactly what is happening from now on. After all, he can't build a peer-to-peer network using the computers of people who are angry at him, he says.

Nevertheless, he's got a fair bit of bridge-building to do. People around the Internet have been bitterly critical, accusing Brilliant of installing software on their machines without their knowledge.

CNET News.com talked to Bermeister about his plans for Altnet and the storm of criticism.

Q: What was the origin of Altnet? What do you see the network doing?
A: Brilliant has offered advertising technologies to Web sites for the past two years. About nine months ago we started to provide technologies to Morpheus and then to Kazaa to enhance their advertising opportunities. We got to know the guys behind the FastTrack (peer-to-peer) technology. They already understood there were some significant issues among content owners in being able to utilize and gain benefits from this technology, which was massively distributed and highly efficient.

"We initially looked at the peer-to-peer technology as providing solutions to advertising, then looked beyond it."
We're an advertising company. We initially looked at the peer-to-peer technology as providing solutions to advertising, then looked beyond it as providing solutions for content. So Altnet was conceived in September or October of last year.

Did you bring the idea, or was it the programmers from FastTrack?
I actually brought the idea. But obviously, it was just an idea. Niklas Zennstrom and Janis Friis had access to the technologies that would enable the idea to come to fruition.

So Brilliant decided to create a business that would utilize the technologies and create a secure peer-to-peer network. User-propagated peer-to-peer networks have some significant issues associated with them, primarily related to security issues, but more importantly, related to the progressive improvement of content that is being offered. Unless there are some centralized controls, content owners cannot really put their best content forward and at least maintain some semblance of control over the end-user experience.

So Altnet, as conceived now, is primarily a way to distribute secure content.
One hundred percent secure. Users cannot propagate their own content through Altnet.

How does it work with Kazaa? What is its relationship to Kazaa?
The protocols of the technology, which are essentially based on the same technology that Kazaa is using from FastTrack, are essentially the same. The technology is different, the stacks are different, the functionality is somewhat different, but the protocols are the same. So Altnet can listen for Kazaa search requests and can even decide whether to respond to them or not. If it responds to them, then Altnet can propagate search results into the Kazaa (program).

But not the other direction?
But not the other direction.

The most controversial point so far has been how Altnet is being built, and how the software is being distributed. Describe your thinking there and how that will work.
Brilliant has been downloading certain components in the past for its advertising technologies. One or two of those components are functional components that can be used for Altnet. But the primary components, which are required to bring Altnet into existence, have not yet been distributed.

At the point those components are distributed, end users will be aware, in the interest of full disclosure, that those components are being distributed. More importantly, when those components are utilized on the end users' desktop to share resources to utilize the resources of their PC--either though file sharing or bandwidth sharing or distributed processing or distributed storage--the user will be notified of our intention to use those resources, and the user will opt in to the program.

The way Brilliant software has been distributed to this point is by being bundled with Kazaa, and to install Kazaa you have to install Brilliant. In the Kazaa terms of service, there's also a Brilliant component that describes the Brilliant software. As these future components are downloaded, how will people be notified?
Two ways. The end-user terms will change so that the end-user agreement becomes very specific to the Altnet components being distributed. And second, the components being delivered with either the Brilliant technologies distributed with Kazaa or with Kazaa itself will be disclosed up front in the install function.

"Unless there are some centralized controls, content owners cannot really put their best content forward."
When does the Altnet system become active, and what should people expect from it?
We're anticipating that in the next four to six weeks, the working components of the Altnet system will be activated or become active...So we expect between the next 60 to 90 days Altnet will begin making contact with the end users.

There is the potential of compensation for users.
That's the whole purpose of Altnet. The benefit of distributed computing technologies in a global peer-to-peer network is such that many organizations that are using centralized servers models can begin deploying their technologies out to the ultimate edge. The ultimate edge is represented by users of this network.

So the benefits to businesses that are making use of Altnet is being passed on to end users, through a program based around "Altnet resource dollars." Those resource dollars are essentially a reward mechanism for end users who have opted in to the program, to gain a continuous benefit from making their resources available.

That benefit will manifest in inventory provided by Altnet marketing partners who are gaining bandwidth reduction costs and cost savings through the use of Altnet.