Nine key predictions about the darknet
It will become even darker
(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)
According to Jamie Bartlett, author of The Dark Net, 95 percent of darknet users give their merchants a five out of five star rating. Reputation is everything on the darknet, and even though people don’t use their real names, a reputable pseudonym name can be worth its weight in gold.
Bartlett estimated 20,000 to 30,000 sites exist in this censorship-free world visited by steady base of 2 million to 3 million anonymous users, but only a small number actually cater to the illegal black market trade.
1.) The darknet will become even darker
Because of the difficult, inhospitable conditions the darknet operates in, the operators of darknet sites are always innovating, always thinking of ways of getting smarter, more decentralized, harder to censor, and yet, more customer-friendly. With a history of cause-driven activities, extreme libertarians are continually trying to find new ways to become more anonymous and avoid detection by law enforcement agencies.
Even though the veil of secrecy is likely to become more digitally opaque, the darknet itself is destined to become far more mainstream.
2.) Every failure will spawn a dozen workarounds
What does six sigma anonymity look like?
In much the same way that hackers are constantly forcing tech companies to improve their security, every exposed darknet flaw will cause thousands of protectors to flock to the rescue and plug the leaks.
This global cat-and-mouse game is being played by some intensely bright cause-driven people. We are still a long ways from having companies offer darknet insurance to protect an individual’s anonymity, but it may not be that far off.
3.) Better UI/UX will dramatically lower the geek factor
User interface is often measured by click-to-access, load times, menu simplicity, and clear navigation schemes that take the guesswork out of finding your way around.
Some of the appeal of the darknet in the past has come from being the lucky one, fortunate enough to discover hidden gems inside a murky ocean of sludge. But efficient marketplaces cannot be about luck.
The next generation of the darknet will offer a far better grade of searchable sludge.
4.) Other cryptocurrencies will compete with Bitcoin as the anonymous payment system of choice
According to Jamie Bartlett, “There was a problem with bitcoin, because every bitcoin transaction is actually recorded publicly in a public ledger. So if you're clever, you can try and work out who's behind them. So they came up with a tumbling service. Hundreds of people send their bitcoin into one address, they're tumbled and jumbled up, and then the right amount is sent on to the right recipients, but they're different bitcoins, creating a micro-laundering system.”
As of this writing, there are over 3,200 cryptocurrencies of which 26 have a market cap over $1 million USD. After Bitcoin, the top 10 cryptocurrencies include Ripple, Litecoin, Ethereum, Dash, Dogecoin, Banxshares, Stellar, BitShares, Bytecoin and Nxt.
Google Trends shows society’s growing in the darknet
5.) Darknet customer base will grow exponentially
As shown above, the number of articles written, TV shows and documentaries produced, and headline-making court cases about the darknet has dramatically increased consumer interest.
People are naturally curious, but in the past have shied away because of rumors that anyone using the Tor browser would put them on some FBI watch list. Now, with plenty of Tor alternatives and reports of “normal people” exploring the darknet just for fun, far more Internet users are feeling it’s safe to dip their toes in the dark waters.
6.) The darknet marketplace will expand exponentially to meet customer demand
When U.S. government officials shut down Silk Road, the FBI seized 144,000 bitcoins, worth about $28.5 million. This one site alone was doing over $600 million per year in transactions.
It’s not easy to get reliable stats on the darknet economy, but when a $600 million site goes down, entrepreneurs see this as a ton of existing consumers looking for an alternative marketplace.
While this probably falls into the “I’m-smarter-than-the-other-guy” theory of counterintuitive entrepreneurship, every public failure of darknet markets will inspire hundreds if not thousands of freethinking opportunists.
Public court documents are nothing short of a how-to-manual for entering the darknet business arena.
Internet security firm, Trend Micro, foresees “the rise of new, completely decentralized marketplaces” that rely on Bitcoin’s blockchain technology. They predict this technology will be used “to implement full-blown marketplaces without a single point of failure”, guaranteeing trust and safe transactions.
7.) Private delivery services will crop up to insure untraceable, secure, and anonymous delivery
Think in terms of a silent and anonymous flying-driving drone that appears invisible to street-cams, radar, and infrared scanners and logs no record of its pickup and delivery points.
This is a machine that no one controls, other than to insure it’s operational, perform routine maintenance, and collect the money in the form of Bitcoin that is paid for every time it’s used.
In a few years, I can imagine a small fleet of these vehicles in every major city, never parking in the same place, with mobile maintenance units meeting vehicles in random locations to perform standard upkeep.
8.) A uniquely-crafted avatar will soon emerge as the first celebrity face and voice of the darknet
Having a celebrity avatar as the “face of the darknet” is a natural evolution of the darknet going mainstream.
While Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Chelsea Manning have become some of the more visible personalities for whistleblower activity, there are many more who are passionate about righting the world’s wrongs that are wishing to stay far more anonymous.
The first celebrity avatar will likely be a college team testing the limits of their darknet prowess, but will evolve quickly under the media spotlight.
9.) The darknet will invent its own justice system
When something goes wrong on the darknet, there are no police, court systems, judges, or lawyers to talk to. For this reason, a number of darknet “fixer” sites will spring up to manage the failures in a way that can only be described as darknet justice.
Second Life and many other virtual world sites lost tons of prospective users because they weren’t able to resolve consumer conflicts.
While darknet justice may not be a “systems approach” to resolving conflict, it could evolve into a more procedural system that everyone buys into.
Much like our right to bear arms, the same freedom that gives us the right to own guns and protect ourselves, puts guns into the hands of evil-doers and some of these guns can be used against us.
Yes, there’s a downside to every new technology.
The same darknet that can be used by whistleblowers, political dissidents, and freedom of speech advocates can also be used for nefarious activities by trolls, anarchists, perverts, and drug dealers.
In 1990 the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children estimated that only 7,000 images of child pornography were in circulation, making it a low priority issue. However, by 2009 with the aid of a high speed Internet, the U.S. Justice Department recorded 20 million unique computer IP addresses actively sharing child pornography files.
At the same time, political activists are mapping out ways to use the darknet and Bitcoin to topple corrupt governments.
When it comes to the darknet, does the good outweigh the bad? Is this a debate that will ever go away?
I’d love to hear about your experience on the darknet. Are you a proficient user or new at it, and what has been your experience?