Today, virtually everyone is a content provider. But content distributed through BitTorrent trackers can be monitored by third parties, a fact some users don’t like. Third parties can, for example, monitor sharing and then use the data for marketing purposes.

Enter OneSwarm, a file sharing application made by some of the same developers who created the BitTorrent client BitTyrant. Instead of transmitting data directly from sender to receiver and identifying them both, the OneSwarm application forwards data through multiple intermediaries, making it difficult for monitoring agents to track the identity of sender and receiver. OneSwarm doesn’t guarantee so-called strong anonymity, but claims that file sharing friend-to-friend is anonymous. For this anonymity to work, both people involved in the file-share (sender and receiver) have to be using OneSwarm.

OneSwarm was created by developers at the University of Washington (the web site is a sub domain of washington.edu). The purpose of the application, according to the developers, is to share files effectively and securely while securing the user’s privacy. Obviously, anonymous file sharing could lead to more widespread piracy of music and video files. On the other hand, if users are feeling more comfortable with sharing files due to the privacy of an app like OneSwarm offers, it could increase file-sharing, opening new opportunities for businesses dealing in sharable content.

The application is based on BitTorrent technology (and works on any other BitTorrent network) but has a couple of additional features like search, friend-to-friend data sharing, permissions and a web interface that lets the user watch or listen to a video or music file while it’s downloading. It has a browser-based interface, and clients are available for LinuxMac OS X and Windows.

These features make OneSwarm similar to the most frequently used BitTorrent tracker, PirateBay, which peaked recently at 25 million unique visitors and was ranked number 102 among the most popular sites on the Internet. The differences are that PirateBay doesn’t protect users from being monitored, has a huge number of BitTorrent swarms, and has become an infamous brand (due to the fact that the founders have ignored, in a rather arrogant manner, the concerns of music piracy from record companies and were recently sued in Sweden).

OneSwarm has been downloaded 50,000 times during the 15 days it has been available on its web site. 20,000 of those downloads were done on Tuesday of this week. Of course, the open-source program can be freely distributed (the developers themselves cannot monitor the file sharing as the application is running on the user’s computer), so the actual number of users may be higher. The application was developed by PhD students Tomas Isdal and Michael Piatek, Arvind Krishnamurthy and professor Tom Anderson at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.