Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have yet to figure out a way to secure sports distribution rights for their customers so many self-proclaimed “cord-cutters” are left looking for live streaming alternatives. When the big game is on and everyone else is watching, sometimes even the most well-meaning MLB or NFL fans will resort to utilizing illegal live streams online to get their fandom fix.
But according to a new study from KU Leuven it’s not just your morals that you’ll be compromising, the device you’re streaming on is at risk too. The study looked at 23,000 “free” live sport streaming websites and found that clicking on half of them triggered malicious code designed to take over your computer, steal your identity or otherwise cause harm to your machine; in other words: they contained a computer virus. It’s enough to make any normally honorable sports fan install an ad blocker at the very least.
From the study:
“It’s a public secret that the [illegal live streaming] ecosystem is not averse to using deceptive techniques to make money from the millions of users who use their services to watch live events. One example is the use of malicious overlay ads, which cover the video player with fake ‘close’ buttons. When users click these buttons, they risk being exposed to malware.”
So it’s not really “free” at all. These sites are extracting a price from the public and it comes in the form of malicious advertisements (as if ads weren’t pernicious enough on their own).
You’ve probably seen these ads before. They look something like this:
More savvy users easily navigate around these ads but a large number of live streamers fall for them. Why else would these sites freely offer up expensive video bandwidth for any and all Google searchers looking for live NHL or NASCAR events? There’s a disturbing economy here and it thrives off of the pain and suffering of sports fans. This study confirms as much.
For their part, the major American leagues have recently attempted to offer competitive streaming-only packages for customers. But apps like MLB At Bat and NBA League Pass are plagued by “blackout dates” where you aren’t able to stream your local team if you’re currently residing in that jurisdiction. That more or less makes it worthless for most of us. Still others complain about the annual low three-figure price tag associated with these services. It seems there is really no “free” solution to live sports streaming. Communities have sprouted across Reddit to cater to these fans.
International users are also out of luck with the above official services as they are typically not available outside of North America.
We’ll leave the moral judgement to you and yours when it comes to whether viewing unauthorized live sporting events online is justified. But surely these malware revelations should give you pause the next time you’re looking to stream a live sporting event without paying or subscribing to the associated service.