Many of us have heard of the mysterious Dark Net, a parallel internet best know as home to a collection of illicit websites that cater to political activists, rogues or for purchasing illegal goods and services. What many people don’t know is that the Dark Net is becoming more mainstream and it being accessed regularly by people interested in maintaining privacy as they conduct mundane, everyday transactions online.
Developed in 2004 by the US military to be used for anonymous, encrypted communications, The Onion Router (TOR) was released as open-source freeware to the public. Gradually over time, a censorship-free world visited by anonymous users grew. The University of Luxembourg recently conducted an analysis of TOR hidden services and found about 40,000 sites. About 17% were dedicated to child pornography, 15% sold illegal drugs, counterfeit goods made up about 8% and hacking sites accounted for about 3%.
Interestingly, most of the sites look very familiar with shopping carts, contact us forms, and most importantly, user comments and reviews sections. Because transactions are so anonymous on the Dark Net, positive reviews and recommendations are key to ongoing success in this world. Jamie Barlett, author of “The Dark Net” found that the vendors are attentive, polite and consumer-centric, offering special deals, free shipping and even the occasional BOGO to keep users happy. In the Dark Net, the customer is king.
Great customer experiences combined with user online privacy has attracted a number of newer sites dedicated to better purposes. The same University of Luxembourg study found chat rooms for Democratic revolutionaries, a more palatable version of Wikileaks called GlobaLeaks, and a number of venerable news sources with secure drop boxes to be used anonymously by whistleblowers. According the the research, 9% of sites are dedicated to politics, 7% cover hardware/software related subjects and a small percentage cover the arts, games, science and sports. Today, the Dark Net has two to three million unique users a day, many of whom are engaging in legal activities. Jamie Bartlett believes the Dark Net is well on it’s way to becoming mainstream.