It’s apparent that a significant change is needed if darknet marketplaces are to be taken to the next level of sustainability.
The next exit scam always seems to be around the corner for every marketplace that rises to the top in terms of sales volume.
I’m not a drug user. I hate that guns are bought online and used to incite terror or affect our fellow world citizens in a significant way.
Malware is interesting to me, but only from a blue team or white-hat hacker point of view, in contrast to people who might crypto-lock their grandma’s Windows 7 box and provide instructions on how to purchase BTC to unlock it.
Why, then, am I even a fan of these marketplaces? Why do I care or want to defend the dark web or darknet markets in general?
I support freedom. And I support privacy. My growing concern is with the continued creep towards a dystopian hell. A dystopia the masses are beginning to beg for.
We are so afraid that we are begging for our freedom to be stripped away.
Just because I may not use dark web markets for an ounce of pot or to buy a bunch of creds doesn’t mean I don’t support the existence of a free marketplace. That’s the bigger picture for me.
I believe in more. I believe in revolution. In growth beyond the illicit. In a fair price for a fair product.
One without MasterCard or PayPal or Amazon in the middle. One without a wealth of metadata scooped up in every purchase.
My belief system is built on a foundation of privacy. Privacy is, to me (from my life of relative privilege), the most important right we all have solidified by Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, our nations tend to say one thing and do another. When it comes to privacy, a signatory State, frankly, doesn’t give a shit about Article 12.
I love the dark web, The Tor Project, Tails, FOSS, Whonix, cryptocurrency and every marketplace out there.
I love them because they are the start of a revolution. They are the start of the now-powerless citizen taking back the planet.
They are the foundation for the fight. We can’t just sit idle as the wealth equality gap between the ultra-rich and the paycheck-to-paycheck worker becomes wider.
Governments in the West have begun openly and flagrantly participating in corruption. The act observing fact is looked down upon. The masses have begun openly voting against their own interests, and it has become normal to do so.
That is why I believe in dark web marketplaces. I see them as a sanctuary. I see them as a hope.
I see them as a place where e-books can be sold by authors who want to say “fuck you” to traditional publishers or the establishment.
A place where artists can sell their work without middlemen. But in their current infant state, there is a significant “elephant in the HTML.”
Decentralization may be the answer. Decentralization makes sense. Decentralization of a marketplace can remove issues of operator trust.
Exit scams can be a thing of the past and remembered as a mere teething problem. Lessons from blockchain behavior can and should be implemented into the marketplaces of the future.
Decentralization removes the middle. Peer-to-peer sites built using open source code, good encryption and immunity from law enforcement server seizure.
Money always needs to come from somewhere. Developers need to come from somewhere. But time and time again, we’re all reminded that people want to help each other creep forward and resist the regulation of the internet.
Television, the medium of the previous century, is now essentially controlled by six conglomerates. Is this the direction of the internet? It’s possible. The end of net neutrality, in one way or another, is happening, and decentralization is becoming the answer to a situation we all never wanted to be in.
OpenBazaar is an open source marketplace built on several technologies integrated to create a cryptographically signed peer-to-peer transaction system with arbitration allowances in cases of dispute. At launch it wasn’t perfect, but it was a hell of a start.
We needed a selfless dev to take the OpenBazaar source and use it as a backbone to blend ledger technology with traditional web-based marketplaces.
It might actually put an end to the seemingly monthly exit scams.
Scrub the lacquer away and a core issue I see in OpenBazaar was its initial flagrant infringement on privacy. The project utilizes a protocol (rudp) that didn’t support anonymization. It initially didn’t even support Tor.
If not supporting Tor was the nail in the coffin of OpenBazaar 1, then the dirt on top is that it is an application in and of itself. Those who want to access marketplaces will normally do so using tools like Whonix or Tails, which enforce strict sudo rules to discourage installations outside of Debian’s core (and which, from a technical standpoint, is entirely understandable and desirable).
However, in September this year, OpenBazaar announced that 2.0 would allow Tor access. It looks like a change is becoming tangible. This might just snowball. OpenBazaar still does have the issue of being an application in and of itself although and I’m not sure how a Tails user could install safely and easily.
Further, given its previous priority level for anonymity and privacy, I can’t get entirely behind it. These principles should be pillars, not afterthoughts. It’s clear this project had privacy as an afterthought.
What I want to see is a decentralized marketplace sustained entirely via a web browser. A dev nightmare? I couldn’t tell you, but PirateBay co-founder Peter Sunde has pointed out on numerous occasions just how important and difficult the issue of centralization is on the internet. With server companies like Amazon AWS controlling so much of the internet, when their errors occur, we all genuinely feel it. So, what happens when we cannot trust the servers? The whole dark web marketplace dream falls through. This trust is blind, currently.
It’s tough, because we all want to freely live in the future. We all want to experience unhindered privacy, the ability to regain some power and some control over our lives and choices.
We want at least a feather on the scale, even if mountains of fiat cash are on the other side pushing the scale platform deep into the soil.
I am a believer though. Time and time again in history, the poor eventually can’t take any more and overthrow those in power. We will build our own system, fair and for us.
In 2014, The Pirate Bay planned to implement a decentralized version of their site, impossible to shut down.
A user would access The Pirate Bay, and the site would utilize part of the machine to serve some of the site’s database to other users accessing the site removing (or at least drastically reducing the risk of) a single point of failure.
This process would continue onwards. It’s like a digital “pay it forward” gesture—something I could get behind for the cents in power it would cost my home to act as a sort of tiny little Pirate Bay server for the next users.
The plan never did work out. But the seed has been planted. And the fruit the tree can bare may be edible by the marketplaces of the future. Others have pushed decentralization forward. And with incredible advances in cryptography, we may yet be able to trust these systems. We may yet see our dream. Our freedom. Our revolution.
Zeronet has paved a little more of the path. They created a peer-to-peer website system removing any censorship, hosting costs and hosting companies, all without a single point of failure.
The open source project removes IP addresses and assigns websites with cryptographic keys, much like a cryptocurrency wallet address. The public key is the site address, and the private key gives the key holder the ability to create and maintain their site. Users serve the sites to each other, just as it should be.
DMCA takedown notices become typewriters to Zeronet’s quad-core laptops—simply from another time and essentially irrelevant. All Zeronet sites created from 2016 onwards are immune to shutdown so long as “seeders” exist to keep the site alive.
Current dark web market founders and webmasters are driven by money. It’s understandable. If you do work, you should be remunerated. But greed still seems to run the world. A shift in zeitgeist is needed.
We shouldn’t accept exit scams as simply a part of it all. We shouldn’t need to track marketplace trust levels. Transparency should be within the work. We shouldn’t need to hope that our purchases are even sent.
Or hope a mod gets back to us if there is an issue. Or hope he or she speaks a language other than Russian.
What can happen in the short term? Multi-sig is essential. It should be mandatory. This won’t happen or be enforced by the mods. This will only happen by user adoption and implementation. User demand.
Strength in numbers. User power. Every time a in-site escrow is used, the higher the temptation is to scam.
And in the long term? We need to take advancements from OpenBazaar and Zeronet. ZeroBazaar is pushing this dream even further. We need to build the freedom we all want together. We need to work together to create a marketplace without a single point of failure. Where disputes might look like a ledger ticket system and a verified trustworthy third party receives a reasonable fee to act as mediator.
Multi-sig should be mandatory in this marketplace. This marketplace won’t have a central server. It will be without censorship, central authority and, most importantly, with an emphasis on the human right we are all entitled to: Privacy. A human right stripped from us with each purchase on a credit card.
A right stripped with every buy on eBay. A right removed every time we tap our chip at a physical store.
ZeroBazaar may be the answer. But the project needs your help. Maybe something entirely new is needed.
Let’s all contribute, and let’s end greed, exit scams, untrustworthiness and instability.
The dark web is for us, and it needs us; just as much as we all need it, whether we truly understand that now, or whether it will take a few more years and a few more freedoms stripped away to fully comprehend.