µTorrent (hereafter used interchangeably with utorrent) is one of the most popular BitTorrent clients in the world, boasting more than 125 million active users a month, it has massively grown in popularity since its 2005 debut. The software is still in development, and current parent company BitTorrent Inc. has explored various methods of monetizing the application over the years. Some time ago, the developers introduced a new µTorrent Plus feature that–for $24.95–added a antivirus add-on, codec pack, remote access, and file conversion plug-in. The paid for version, which has essentially been little more than donation-ware (not that there is anything wrong with that, just that the Plus version does not add much in the way of actual torrenting that the free app is not also capable of). BitTorrent Inc. also introduced a browser toolbar, which in addition to Plus, was the company’s sole method of monetizing the software. Until now.
The µTorrent developers have announced that the next version of the torrent program will introduce ads.
In addition to the usual bug fixes and under-the-hood performance tweaks, is a (direct quote) “fresh approach to creating a no-nonsense and free torrenting experience.” Allegedly, the developers are introducing the ads to keep the lights on and pay the bills.
The µTorrent client. No ads in the beta yet, but the next stable release should see ads in the torrent list above.
The new ads include a "featured torrent" at the top of the torrent list that will offer up suggested downloads of various multimedia files, pieces of software, and deliver important updates. Reportedly, the developers are working on offers with third parties (including indie artists) for the featured torrent such that it will present relevant results without compromising privacy. They have stated that utorrent does not collect personalized information. Rather, the ads will be “relevant” in the sense that the offers will be adjusted based on community feedback and other non-personalized factors. Your IP address will likely be used to give you country-specific ads, but they otherwise should not collect any other data or track your usage, according to the announcement.
It is free software, and the developers should be able to make some money off of their work. So long as the ads are not intrusive, the practice is all well and good. Also in the “good news” category is that µTorrent Plus members will not see any ads, so the paid-for version has some additional value for those that have already donated money.
It is not all good news though, and the community does not appear to be happy at the moment. According to the announcement, while users of the free version will be able to close out individual offers, there will be no way to turn off the ads all together. If users do not find an ad relevant, they are encouraged to click the “x” within the ad, after which a new offer will appear.
To be more specific:
“There is no way to turn in-client offers off*. We will pay attention to feedback, and may change this in the future.” [Of course, uTorrent Plus users will not see ads].
Also riling up some community members is an article by torrent-enthusiast website Torrent Freak, which has called out the developers by alleging that adding the new offers (ads) is merely a money grab. The site calls into question the developers statement about needing the ads to “keep the lights on.” Torrent Freak reports that, according to a source in the know, uTorrent’s parent company BitTorrent Inc. is in no financial trouble and “currently generates between $15 and $20 million in annual revenue.”
Either way, the company is providing a roundabout way to get rid of the ads by buying the µTorrent Plus version. Alternatively, there are several other free torrent clients out there if you do not wish to see ads. Personally, I do not think that µTorrent is doing anything wrong by attempting to monetize its work,
but I do find the rather quiet announcement irritating. I think that the developers could have found a more receptive audience if users did not have to find out about the change from other sites first. Update: after some thought, this is just the first announcement and users may well be told within the application of the changes before updating when it does come out. Here's hoping. (end of update). It just feels a bit like they tried to slip the ad announcement in without users being any the wiser (as I believe it’s a small percentage of that user base that follows the developer’s forum). As far as the ads themselves, I will have to wait and see once it is official (the latest beta build I have does not yet have ads) to determine if the offers will be intrusive. Assuming the privacy statement is legitimate and the ads do not impair normal torrenting, I’ll keep using µTorrent and support them with ads since I can’t justify a Plus purchase currently. The latest beta build does improve the support for magnet links, and I have not had any problems with it yet so I'll keep using it.
What do you think though? Will you keep using utorrent with ads? If you want to leave the utorrent developers feedback on the change, the team has asked for comments on the announcement thread.