The internet is called a web or net for a reason. You’re on the web. I am on the web. Your family and your friends and all the people that one day will be family and friends to you, we are all on, and in, a digital net webbed around us.
It is a place where the price for the economy, politics and culture to thrive is your digital footprint, your Likes on Facebook , your browsing patterns. What we also hand in is our free will to allow external parties to control and use this data, yours and mine, for both light and dark purposes. In specific, check out Illuminus to learn what others already know about you…
But nothing is ever like it seems to be on the mainstream surface.
Let writer and journalist Jamie Bartlett introduce you to the darknet.
The darknet is a powerfully encrypted overlay network, accessible only by specific onion software such as the Tor browser. This means that the computer does not directly access the server hosting a website, but the data is tumbled numerous times so that the immediate link is broken because of all those different data layers: reciprocal anonymity is guaranteed. What initially started as a software developed by the US Navy, is now known as the topos of illegality. Lethal drugs and weapons maybe the least terrifying goods you can purchase on the darknet, the same applying for services such as hacking and hit men operations.
Illegal activity thrives on the darknet due to the multi-signature enscrow payment. As Bartlett explains, the purchaser first sends his/her bitcoins (into which you can translate any official currency) to a neutral, digital third party after they have been tumbled with other bitcoins flowing though the darknet so that the individual bitcoins cannot be tracked back. Only after the transaction is completed do the crypto-bitcoins reach the vendor and can be translated into its monetary value.
Is the darknet going mainstream?
This innovative way of encrypted economic transaction is not the only sign that indicates how the free market rules have invaded the former alternative, dark internet where society’s underdogs used to expand their business.
User reviewing systems, competition and choice, consumer-centrism, special offers and politeness, as Bartlett reports out of personal experience, have taken over the darknet.
As a consequence, on the one side the quality of illegal business (for instance fair trade cocaine production with social corporate responsibility operations) has risen while its price has fallen, paving the way for a plethora of life threatening activities.
On the other side however the darknet is becoming a colony for those actors who attempt to maintain their digital privacy in times of governmental and market surveillance. Non-governmental activist organizations, social media, artists and even architectural projects can be found nowadays in the hidden web, as well as journalists and bloggers who are monitored by power authorities.
The darknet is no longer a dark corner in some back alley of the mainstream Internet.
It is “creative, secure, difficult to censor” and this is the very reason why it holds the potential for more open, critical and democratic discourse, freed from surveillance and censorship.
Bartlett predicts that in the future more and more people will use the darknet as a digital public sphere, both for darker and lighter purposes, but without paying the price of privacy for that. It all comes down not to a question of morality, but of a functioning, innovative market under conditions of complete anonymity and safety.
Is the darknet becoming mainstream?
If so, then it might be eventually transformed into an online public space where safety and privacy, yours and mine, are guarded and discourse be realised freely.
If so, then see you on the darknet.
Photo credits: Cover image by the author