How Dark Is The Dark Web?
First and foremost, we should explain what the Dark Web is. Often compared to an iceberg, the (“clear”) web as we typically use it, is similar to an iceberg’s cap. Open websites can be searched for and seen without any encryption. But there is a massive amount of networks and information under the surface too. In the “shallow waters”, you can find the Deep Web. These are websites that are password-protected, and cannot be found on the “open waters” such as through a Google search. Finally, there is the Dark Web. The Dark Web (or “Darknet”) is a parallel network where you can sign on anonymously. Similar to signing on to Google Chrome or Safari, you can sign on to a Dark Web browser such as Tor and explore. But on the Dark Web, your IP address is hidden or encrypted. Your location and name, easy to track and often recorded through open web browsers, are not detectable on the Dark Web browsers. Also, your history isn’t tracked on the Dark Web. In short, the infamous cookies that gather your chronicle of events, location, name, and an enormous amount of data, don’t exist on the Dark Web. Tor (and other “onion” browsers) allow you to truly be incognito. And yes, Google’s version of incognito web searching is still tracked. So while the Clear Web as we know it seems vast, it’s actually about 1% of the page-count compared to the Deep and Dark Web.
So, how old is the Dark Web? The history of the Dark Web is a bit, well, murky. The strongest theory of its formation is that it was created by the US government about 30 years ago as a network for spies to communicate. The Dark Web expanded into the private sector a few quick years later and thus online incognito bazaars such as The Silk Road and WSM became popular. As one might predict, if you can communicate anonymously, the Dark Web quickly became a network of not just government spies and law enforcement, but criminals as well. Selling arms, drugs, sex slaves, exotic pets, human organs, and almost anything you can imagine became common on the Dark Web.
There are endless examples of how dark the Dark Web can be. In 2017 amateur 20-year-old model Chloe Ayling was kidnapped and put up for auction by a group run through the Dark Web. She is one, of dismally thousands of victims “for sale” on the Dark Web. In 2019, it was estimated that about 20 million victims were bought and sold on the Dark Web. And that’s just on record. Horrors continue with similar stories from the Chicago Tribune, like “you can commission a murder for $5,000.” Or, “386 million stolen records that have been given to the Dark Web in 2020,” according to an article published this past November.
Illegal purchases are paid for through cryptocurrency - easily crossing borders and staying as hidden as possible. And the unbelievable torture storied to be sold on the Dark Web, is more than we can stand to relay. It’s beyond human comprehension and something we prefer to “unlearn."
One “marketplace” after the next has been shut down by government agencies over the last decade. Starting with The Silk Road and AlphaBay, these forums are huge, hosting criminals, and watched closely. On one hand, these Dark Web entities allow criminals to commit crimes without being caught. On the other hand, it allows law enforcement to keep a close eye on transactions, patterns, and potential victims.
For all the evil that exists on the Dark Web, there are also neutral, or even positive sides to it. As Alan Pearce discusses in his Ted Talk, the Dark Web allows your typical law-abiding user to avoid commercialization of his or her data or manipulation of personalized advertising. Less spam, trolls, or stalkers. Using the Dark Web allows your everyday non-criminal web users to go about their business without being watched or having their data collected. It’s truly the next frontier, and reflects that same freedom our ancestor relatives lived in the wild west.
A tactical example of this freedom is shown in countries with restricted freedom of speech laws. As we know, powerful governments often sensor citizen information. China exemplifies this. It’s well-known there are government agents in online chat rooms policing the conversation. They have hard administration filters on the Clear Web, outlawing search engines like Google and similar - narrowing information sent to their citizens. And huge firewalls confining Chinese citizens online. The Dark Web allows freedom of search, purchase, and information.
Also, plenty of common clear web companies have Dark Web presence. Facebook and The New York Times are two of them. Often this is to counteract censorship around the world, but also allows an alternative to their own surveillance.
The Dark Web is not 100% dark. It truly is a platform for those that want freedom. Who can argue with those revolting against tyrannical or autocratic governments? In the west, we get frustrated with managers who insist on us coming into the office. So you can’t help but empathize with humans who simply want freedom of speech or freedom of information. Still, the Dark Web houses criminals from every vice you can think of. It gives them a means to sell, communicate, and learn from each other how best to carry out their crimes. One can’t help but compare corners of the Dark Web to a modern-day Dante’s Inferno. What we perhaps want to take away is the simple knowledge that this exists. We hope our loved ones don’t get caught up in the Dark Web, and we hope those that justly crave human rights, do.