Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

The Virtual Economy and The Dark Web

     There’s a darker underbelly to the virtual economy that not many people know about, at least, they’ve heard of it but have no idea how to get to it. After downloading several servers, browsers, and hiding behind multiple proxies and relocating IP addresses, one can access the Dark Web, a much different side than the Clear Web that everyone is becoming so fond of using.

    The Virtual Economy is an emergent economy which exists in a virtual world. It is increasingly dependent on this unseen and anonymous space and circulation known as the Dark Web for a multitude of reasons. The anonymity of the “other” side of the virtual world allow for the exchange of illicit things, such as drugs, illegal weapons trade, leaking classified information, and even global terrorism. Though this virtual face is not limited to its abuse, and actually is very helpful in some instances, it is becoming increasingly dangerous as it becomes utilized by a wider variety of people. It can also be responsible for a post-capitalist movement, and a way to avoid a surveilled society.


    It’s becoming exceedingly common for people to skip the stores and hit the screen for shopping. Black Friday is now accompanied by Cyber Monday, where sales continue but only on the virtual face. One could completely refurnish their house, buy new linens, appliances, clothes, even curated dog treat packages—hassle free and of course legally. On the contrary, the Dark Web supplies more illicit things. One could access websites on the “Deep Web,” meaning these pages cannot be accessed through a regular google search.  This also leaves room for other market places, such as the infamous Silk Road, where users have the ability to purchase a vast array of illicit substances. A journal of Cyber Criminality has even claimed, “as a medium, the Internet has become a haven for both the innovator and the criminal, creating a line between the two that has become more ambiguous over time,” (Lacson and Jones, 45).  
    When shopping online (on the clear web), it is nearly impossible to detach your name from the money being transferred. In person, dealing with cash is the best way to diminish a paper trail. People with privacy issues are turning to the dark web because it allows you to purchase bitcoin, or other forms of crypto currency, completely anonymously and also use them as such on the dark web. This isn’t to say that the only purchasing being done on the dark web is drugs, but rather a way to purchase and browse through websites that protects “readers from malicious advertising and metadata collection.” (Brooke). No information is safe on the internet; someone always has access to the information being processed and left on every single website. The dark web allows the security of anonymity, and while this is being utilized in larger companies such as Facebook, it also leaves room for the darker side of the virtual economy.

    “Dark Web consists of Internet content that is not accessible through standard search engines. Information on the Dark Web is typically not available to the general population, and is intentionally hidden from the regular Internet, known as Clearnet.” (Lacson and Jones). Though the Dark Web was created in the 1990’s, it didn’t spark its mass popularity until Edward Snowden leaked top secret information from the National Security Agency. When it became known that people’s information was being collected and stored for government access, people felt their rights had been violated. The Dark Net makes it so that information cannot be collected, people are free to explore and purchase things on the internet without it being tied to their name because everything is encrypted. The Onion Router, or Tor, is what one needs to access the Dark Web. What it does is, “covers your online tracks by blending your internet traffic into data from many servers worldwide to make you functionally invisible,” (Lacson and Jones). It is called Onion because of the various layers of servers, and proxies that the net hides behind. The same content which can be downloaded for public use is what the government uses to hide its own information. It’s not that you appear invisible on the server, but rather your data is being tumbled with thousands or millions of other people’s information, making it extremely difficult to track it back to any one person. While it was, “initially created as a security measure by the U.S. Navy, [it] is now the medium of choice for illegal sites ranging from drug dealing to assassination and terrorism,” (Lacson and Jones, 43). It appears that the anonymity of the Dark Web has left a lot of room for illegal uses of the Tor browser. “Tor itself acts as a serious deterrent for law enforcement for all of the sites it hosts,” (Lacson and Jones, 45). Computers with Tor downloaded onto them act as a node, a central or connecting point, on a multinational level. Not only is the information being scrambled, but if there is an order to shut down a segment of nodes it must also be done on a global level in order for them to effectively be shut down completely. Essentially this also means, the more people who use the browser, the more protection it provides its users.

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