Data analysis identifies a surprising global capital for pirating Game of Thrones episodes

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When “The Dragon and the Wolf” airs tonight, the finale of the penultimate season of Game of Thrones could become the HBO hit’s most-watched episode ever. As Quartz’s Ashley Rodriguez has reported, the series has set viewership records this season, despite hacks that leaked some episodes online early.

As is always the case with the most pirated television show in history, an astounding number of people will be watching the show illegally. For a sense of how big the piracy problem is for HBO, consider that in a few days following its release, the first episode of Game of Thrones season 7 was viewed through official channels more than 16 million times, and was illegally viewed over 90 million times around the globe. While HBO offers an array of options to watch the show on the right side of the law, the internet offers even more to skirt it. But where are all these pirates coming from?

An interesting explanation comes from alpha60, a University of California, Berkeley-funded project that measures piracy traffic. It’s led by the wife and husband team of Abigail De Kosnik, a Berkeley associate professor of new media, and Benjamin De Kosnik, an artist and software engineer.

The De Kosnicks analyzed traffic on BitTorrent, one of many popular sites for viewing Game of Thrones illegally, in the week following the July 16 premiere of “Dragonstone,” the first episode of the current season. By looking at VPN data, they were able to pinpoint where illegal downloads were happening. Seoul led the globe in absolute number of downloads, but Dallas, Texas, had the highest share of GOT pirates by population.

 

A caveat: the authors noted that their analysis couldn’t determine whether traffic in those cities was real or the result of “geospoofing”—phony addresses claimed by VPN users to hide their real locations. Just like those ravens with an uncanny ability to move through time and space, Game of Thrones pirates may be manipulating locations, too.

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