A senior criminology lecturer at Macquarie University, along with a Ph.D student at Université de Montréal, engaged Reddit users in an AMA session with the main topic focusing on darknet markets.
The university lecturer, Dr. James Martin, and the Ph.D student, Rasmus Munksgaard, are members of a team of researchers who have been studying darknet markets since the early days of Silk Road.
Indeed a lot of happenings have taken place since the inception of Silk Road. Among the most notable ones are the emergence of other popular darknet markets, several law enforcement takedowns, exit scams and hacks targeting the Tor-based marketplaces.
The two academics, in collaboration with their colleagues, aimed to help users understand how things work by answering any questions related to the field of darknet markets. Topics of interest included the role dark web markets have played in the opioid crisis, the future of OpenBazaar and advice on ways to study the markets, taking into account complex factors.
On the /r/DarkNetMarkets subreddit, Martin and Munksgaard conversed with dark web vendors to gain insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Since it’s an underground business that comes with specific risks and cautions, any darknet vendor is likely to be reluctant in participating in online interviews and questionnaires.
But so far, the duo claims to have interviewed over a dozen market vendors who have given them thorough information as to who they are, what they do and how they do it.
According to the team, the whole idea came about after other vendors were gaining interest in the field of darknet market research. For this reason, they considered it essential to conduct a survey project.
Engaging with the Dark Web Community
Just like other dark web users, James and Munksgaard participate on sites like Reddit under aliases—their usernames are JamoCrim and modestwitness, respectively. It is a common practice for darknet users not to use their real names whenever they engage in any form of activity.
The Reddit AMA conversation was also extended to Twitter.
Communication with Interviewees
Despite the fact that James and Munksgaard have conducted nearly a dozen interviews, the team wants to engage more users in the project to get more first-hand information on topics touching on the darknet markets, for the sole purpose of continuous learning.
No matter the level of experience one has or what activity they’re involved in on the darknet markets, as long as they are willing to share their story, then James and Munksgaard already have a platform to do so courtesy of their university institutions.
More so, the researchers put measures in place to ensure that the interviewees remained anonymous. The measures involved using anonymized messaging apps such as Jabber and Wickr, or the use of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) for those who wish to communicate via email. They could also use platforms that provide end-to-end encryption, such as Telegram or Signal.
On Reddit, modest witness talked in-depth about the type of data they tend to solicit from clients, and among them include career trajectories. They made it categorically clear that they are not interested in darknet money laundering techniques that involve the use of money transfer platforms.
The entire AMA, complete with all questions and responses as they were submitted, can be found on this thread.