Big Eye is Watching You or: the Black Market is everywhere

By Marta Ziosi

The World’s first e-commerce transaction was a drug deal. In the early 70s students from Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  conducted a small transaction involving a quantity of Marijuana. Nowadays, people might not be aware of what is to be found behind their shiny flat screensbut, I can assure you that a sleepless community relentlessly forges and moulds the ‘Dark Side of the Web’. If you are eager to know more, you better stay wired.

A quick starter: first, what is the black market? As any other market, it is an online hidden platform which includes activities like: production of malware (malicious software), “logistics” – delivering malware to web users and catching their online data – sales (of users’ data), marketing and promotion of cyber-products obtained illegally. It might sound like an utopian, a-temporal thieves’ conclave to our ears. Conclave could actually be a contentious word to express the fake theatre of values and morals playing a big part in the game. ’It is the ultimate irony’ claims a researcher who asked for anonymity ‘a den of thieves who don’t know each other but need to trust each other’. Reputation in fact appears to be crucial in the black market and inspiration is drawn from the most famous and efficient market strategies; two-for-one special loyalty discounts, promotional campaigns (smoke weed day!), money back guarantees, mission statements and a five-star amazon-like rating system backed by several aficionados.

This is what makes the difference. The power here is finally shifted to the customers. Faceless members of society are given the possibility of feeling pampered and nannied by a market powered by their bitcoins (digital currency). What are buyers looking for? Drugs mostly. The advantages in this case are innumerable. First of all, it is physically less dangerous and second of all, the level of purity appears to be quite high thanks to the efficient rating system (FBI itself agreed on this, uhu!). Although there are many markets, the infamous ‘Silk Road’ is one of the biggest drug dealing sites. Its shut down, followed by the arrest of the alleged ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ (the site’s founder) lead to the consequent proliferation of other crypto-markets such as ‘Agora’ and ‘Evolution’. The latter, which is also the fastest-growing, appears to have effectively ‘evolved’ from the one-dimensional drug approach, forging and devising a new section regarding ‘Fraud’ where any wannabe kid is provided with a ‘how to’ guide on committing crimes. Perhaps, as the pervious markets were inspired by the Amazon-methods, the latter engaged itself in a celebration of Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses).

These sites have made the Internet Police’s life really hard in the last years, mainly for three different reasons. First of all, the physical separation of buyers and sellers in the market that defies any attempt of tracking culpable parties. Second of all, the technical complexity of the system together with the fact that, as there is no central control, the very concept of accountability is questioned. Eventually, although it may sound paradoxical, the dark net seems to retain some ‘valuable goods’, namely whistleblowers holding useful information.

One thing makes it highly valuable and attractive to several parties: its great potential.

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