If you ask people what one darknet site they know, the most common answer is Silk Road, the site that opened the world to the possibilities of a “mostly unregulated” marketplace, and led to Ross Ulbricht receiving a life sentence in prison. At the time Silk Road launched and became the bogeyman to law enforcement agencies, the technology that made it possible is what made it successful. It wasn’t on the clearnet, which meant it had to be located using TOR, which meant most people would never see it.
You had to use cryptocurrency, Bitcoin in those days, in order to use it, and you had to have some guts, because whatever you were engaging in was illegal and could result in serious jail time. For a time, all of that made Silk Road work. Clones came and went, but Silk Road was the leader, until the day it wasn’t.
Regardless of whether anyone wants to pin Silk Road going down on Ulbricht, ChronicPain, or anyone involved in site administration, what it can all trace back to is that the market was centralized. Regardless of people arriving there using TOR, or TOR with Tails and another proxy, the market was ultimately located in one place on a central server. When Ulbricht was apprehended, the site was seized and that was it. But what if the site wasn’t hosted on a central server?
We thank u all for ur supportive feedback on our #OAX Project #prototype! Ur contributions r taken well into consideration towards creating a truly open, #decentralized and transparent exchange #dex for all. Test the OAX prototype ▶️ https://t.co/v4N0q3MgBw pic.twitter.com/oU63Ju1iPG
— OAX (@OAX_Foundation) August 1, 2018
Eden Market recently produced a white paper that discusses their role as the the first decentralized darknet market on the blockchain. In it, they not only discuss the importance of using a privacy cryptocurrency like Monero that doesn’t allow for legal entities to perform a blockchain analysis, which means the transaction is actually untraceable, but the need for a decentralized market to have actual privacy and security.
The security isn’t just for the market to keep it from being seized in one motion, but for buyers whose data is hosted on it, and to avoid users becoming the victims of cash-out scams. TradeRoute, Outlaw, Nucleus, Black Bank, Evolution, and Sheep have all pulled this move in the past with no repercussions because with an anonymous centralized market that can vanish in the blink of an eye, who do you punish?
The day that humans invented the computer was the day in which ideas were no longer bound by the constraints of physical coercion. #Decentralized #Software is both the Sword & Pen. Innovation can never be stopped. https://t.co/vWw95c6JKp
— Freedom Solutions (@fs_dao) August 3, 2018
The combination of a private cryptocurrency and a decentralized market is as close to unstoppable as a market can currently be. In a sense, it is exactly what Silk Road was supposed to be, something that was passed from one user to another. While it is a victory for those who value privacy above all else, many wonder if privacy is worth having an unstoppable market, darkent or clearnet, that authorities cannot seize, likely cannot crack without an inside helper, that will live on so long as someone has the proper admin credentials to keep it operating. Given the choice between that and the centralized server system most markets operate on currently, it only makes sense that most will opt for the superior decentralized option when the time is right. In that sense, the clones will rise.
The ethical dilemma is if we should have access to decentralized markets where transactions are anonymous. Blockonomi raised the question first, wondering aloud if we should have markets where guns, bombs, and other implements of destruction can be sold.
“This then leads to a number of important ethical questions. On the one hand, using sites like eBay and Amazon.com to facilitate person-to-person trades comes with its own problems. Specifically, these kinds of sites tend to track and sell data about their users, something that privacy advocates would undoubtedly object to. However, a market that allows for the unrestrained sale of dangerous items could be a serious issue. Drugs aside, these markets have also been known to facilitate the sale of firearms and easily concealed knives or other weapons. It is conceivable that terrorists of the future (or even today) could make use of these types of markets in order to buy and sell weapons or other destructive or deadly items.”
Did somebody say "decentralized darknet market?" pic.twitter.com/2yE1MoKYO4
— Jameson Lopp (@lopp) July 31, 2017
While authorities have said if there is ever such a thing as a truly unstoppable darknet market, people would flock to it and the widespread corruption it causes would lead to total chaos, most experts view it quite differently. The existence of such a market in the here and now has not led to widespread global chaos. People that used the markets before continue to for the most part. New people always appear. Old markets are seized, replacements spawn in their place. The estimated amount of money going into darknet markets remains fairly static.
Blockonmi compares it to the arguments that were made when the debates over the legalization of marijuana began. People that used it continued to; people that didn’t want to use it didn’t suddenly begin to just because they had the ability to do so legally. In that sense, the darknet and the markets that reside within it have been the same, always present, always open for business, but they’re not bringing in hordes of new customers just because they are there.