Disappearing uploads, frequent download errors, and a slow and unresponsive web site are not the best way to start a file storage service. Such difficulties have plagued the first few days of Mega, Kim Dotcom's cloud-based successor to MegaUpload, launched in a fit of worldwide publicity over the weekend.
Testing shows that the service is currently unusable, overloaded by demand. Despite the problems, Mega has so far been given an easy ride in the media and amongst prospective users but should the issues turn out to be anything other than a hangover from the launch party, Mega will not prove to be the world-dominating success for which Dotcom hopes.
Whatever one might think of Dotcom's approach to infringement, it is difficult to deny his ability for flamboyant publicity. Launched at Dotcom's New Zealand mansion a year to the day after helicopters landed on its lawn to arrest him, the new Mega service was featured on the homepage of many media outlets over the weekend, from technical and piracy-focused sites to mainstream news organisations. Following a sustained build-up of coverage over the last few weeks, registrations for Mega have reportedly topped a million users following the unveiling. Yet users have signed up for a service which is currently glacial in its responsiveness.
The Mega Service
Dotcom has positioned Mega as a cloud storage service akin to Dropbox rather than a traditional cyberlocker. The Mega user interface is clean and simple to use - indolent servers notwithstanding - and available in thirty-two different languages. All users receive 50GB of free storage. The service also claims that bandwidth is 'unrestricted', though may be capped on a per-IP basis "for operational reasons". Over and above the free space available, the main claim of Mega is the encryption attached to the storage: all uploads are encrypted before they are sent to Mega, though this security extends only to the files held on Mega - for instance, user profile details are not encrypted.
Dotcom portrays the security and encryption levels as features born of a desire to help protect users in an internet world full of threats. In reality, the most likely reason for this service design is that it may protect Dotcom and those in charge of the service from allegations that they are aware of or can control infringement conducted via Mega.
Extended "Pro" memberships are available, ranging from €9.99 for 500GB of storage and 1TB of bandwidth to €29.99 for 4TB of storage and 8TB of bandwidth. Copyright warnings are evident in many parts of the site and appear under any attempt to share a link. A copyright takedown form is prominent which offers a template for complaints under New Zealand law. Rights holders can request to remove sharing links for the file or to remove the content completely. There is no evidence yet of the back-end or API access to file removals which was provided to some rights holders for the previous MegaUpload service.
Yet because of the poor service on offer, rights holders will likely not be using the takedown form routinely at present. Most aggregation and link sites have so far ignored Mega as an upload location. In the long-term, committed uploaders may be likely to avoid Mega anyway: there are no monetary rewards on offer and an awareness that the service could easily go the same way as MegaUpload should Dotcom's confidence in the legitimacy of the service be unwarranted.
Analysis of Mega is hampered by the simple fact that it simply doesn't work yet. For example, file upload attempts at most points on Sunday remained listed as 'pending'. Even on Monday morning with most of the Americas asleep, files uploaded at less than 5Kb/s - or did not upload at all. Completed uploads often hung at 100%.
More important, files frequently disappeared once uploaded. Of five files added to Mega during Monday morning, only two (both small) appeared to make it. Perhaps the others fell from the Mega cloud amongst the snow that currently blankets Cambridge.
Downloads mostly refuse to start. Out of a number of attempts to download even small files, not a single success was recorded with 'temporary errors' and time-outs common. Similarly, viewing account details or attempting to update a user profile takes minutes to respond and often simply times out.
Should the service begin to work as intended, sharing files requires a user to share both a file link and a decryption key with a downloader. The Mega file manager provides the uploader with both these items by default. Links do not contain the file name, although this is stored by Mega (in an encrypted form). Links appear like so:
Links with decryption keys are longer:
Downloaders without a Mega account must agree to Terms of Service before they can download even with a full link, though they do not have to sign up. Registered users can download a file (or import it into their own account) without having to agree to the ToS, or so initial testing indicates - the service regularly logs users out without warning. Scrutiny will return to Mega to provide a more thorough analysis when the service shows itself able to cope with levels of demand or when that demand drops as users become frustrated and go elsewhere. On current testing, the latter will not take long.
Written by David Price, Head of Piracy Intelligence at NetNames
21 January 2013