In cyberspace, the darknet is the equivalent of that dark, seedy alley that you’re advised to steer clear of.
Often referred to as the corrupt underbelly of the internet, common lore is that it’s the place where the drug dealers, human traffickers, terrorists, arms dealers and child pornographers hang out. But here are five things about the darknet that aren’t so dark after all.
It’s probably the only place to live freely on the internet
Net neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic is created equal. The very fact that we are having a conversation about it and that laws are being pushed to challenge it, is, safe to say, the stuff of nightmares for the forebears of the internet and World Wide Web. The darknet, given that it exists outside of the monitored internet, may soon be—and may even already be—the only online space where you can be truly free.
It’s the only place you can have total privacy
We live in an age of constant surveillance—by governments, by advertisers, by service providers and so on. Most of us often have no idea that every move of ours is being watched, or if we do, we don’t quite understand why that might be a problem. Nothing on the internet is private—unless, that is, you go rogue and take the late train to Downtown Darknet.
It’s where whistleblowers roam freely
If you have information that no one wants you to have or share, the darknet is your safe haven. From conspiracies against states to corporate misconduct, from fraud to malfeasance, whether disclosure or secrecy, the underground tunnels of the darknet are where whistleblowers roam. There are underground channels, such as activist groups, whistleblower forums and even media presences for secure and anonymous exchanging of sensitive information.
It allows for decentralized currencies
There’s a reason cryptocurrency is the money that talks inside the darknet: the absence of centralized control. Cryptocurrency transactions are recorded in blockchain ledgers. In plain English, this means that rather than having a central bank maintain records of transactions of assets held by individuals or of the amount of currency in circulation, cryptocurrency records are stored in public databases, secured by cryptography. This allows for privacy in financial transactions and easier peer-to-peer or international trade. Of course, the legality of cryptocurrency is dubious in many countries, and it is used for all manner of nefarious activities—but one could say that of legal currency as well.
It has its own justice system
In tech speak, this is called hacktivism. These under-the-radar vigilantes carry out their own justice, which can be in the form of shutting down seedier activities, like child pornography or human trafficking, or generally striking a blow for human rights. One of the most well-known of such groups is Anonymous, which took down a large network of child porn on the darknet.
But, yes, there is a “but.”
Every one of these instances has equally effective use for illegal—or inhuman—activities. The darknet doesn’t have to be so dark, but like all technology, it depends wholly on the people who use it.