Crypto and the Dark Web: An Unholy Alliance or An Inevitable Side Effect?

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With the use of cryptocurrencies increasing on the dark web, we explore what the possible long-term effects this type of usage will be on the adoption front.

Crypto in Shadows

One of the most fascinating concepts on the internet is the dark web. For most, the dark web has the same appeal as creepypastas in the sense of it existing as somewhat of an internet urban legend and has become the focus of morbid attention. It has inspired games, videos, and even a popular horror movie in which a character comes across a laptop that has been used to browse the dark web, and they are subsequently harassed by dark and dangerous figures from that side.

So what is the dark web exactly?

Essentially it is a part of the internet that is inaccessible to typical browser software and instead, can only be accessed by special software and is largely untraceable, offering an unprecedented amount of privacy. As a result of this privacy, the dark web has become a hub for illegal and shady activity, and there are even marketplaces that thrive and specialize in drugs and weapons, it is even rumored that human trafficking takes place over the dark web. This explains why people are fascinated by it and why law enforcement dedicates significant resources to staying on top of it and cracking down on the activities that take place there.

If the rest of the internet is a busy commercial street, then the dark web is the underground establishment where creatures of the night come out to play, and now it would seem that the creatures of the night have a new tool with which to carry out their activities – crypto.

Crypto on the Dark Web

When most people think of cryptocurrency, they think of the volatile and exciting trading world it has created and the concept of a financially borderless future where physical wallets are not needed and bank robberies are a thing of the past. However, whilst crypto has found its way into many legitimate facets of human life, it has also found its way into a lot of non-legitimate facets, one of which is the dark web.

It was estimated that $700 million worth of bitcoin was traded over the dark web in 2017, and that figure remained mostly steady in 2018 despite an increase in law enforcement crackdown. In the past, those who traded on the dark web usually made use of wire transfers, bank transfers or payment in person. However, this had downsides as bank transactions could be traced and law enforcement had taken advantage of in-person payments to catch some of the criminals involved. Then crypto came on the scene; it was quick, easy to use and to an extent, untraceable, and this opened up the floodgates for a whole new world of underground activities that could be kept away from law enforcement.

While bitcoin, being the most popular crypto in the world, is the tool of choice for transactions over the dark web other currencies, particularly privacy currencies like Monero, are also favored due to the increased level of security and privacy for those who make use of them.

Damage Done

Despite all the naysayers and negative predictions, crypto has survived past its first decade and is now starting to mature into a truly respectable and regulated industry.

The crypto industry has to be particularly careful about its image that is being projected onto the world as it will inform how society treats the technology and potential future outcomes for lawmakers and the like. When bitcoin first gained huge mainstream attention, it was after the first major bull run when many of his earliest investors became millionaires overnight. Because this was a sweeping phenomenon of first exposures to bitcoin, many thought of it as a get-rich-quick scheme or a magic bullet that will solve all their financial problems. As such, many rushed into the industry with the hope of getting a quick buck and since that has proven to not be the case, those who truly are interested in cryptocurrency are those who remained.

Also, as crypto is a new and fascinating industry, it is an easy scapegoat for the media to sensationalize and overreport on. One of the most reported crypto stories in the mainstream media so far in 2019 was the QuadrigaCX story, in which millions of dollars of customer funds were lost due to the kes to private wallet going missing. There are countless stories of progress and innovation in the crypto industry but that doesn’t necessarily drive clicks; what does are stories of people losing their life savings to crypto and hacks. Therefore, care needs to be taken to make sure crypto doesn’t become a sensationalized topic so as not to scare away potential adoption.

Which brings up the question of whether the increased use of crypto on the dark web could potentially harm long-term adoption. After all, most people already associate the dark web with criminal activities and scary individuals. Should crypto be publicly associated with the dark web in mainstream media, it could muddy public perceptions of crypto, and then have them mentally associate it with crime and chaos.

Weathering the storm

In the best-case scenario, the crypto industry will receive mostly positive and truthful coverage from the media to avoid mass-hysteria in the wake of new this new technology. But one only needs to look back at the earliest days of the internet where there was mass hysteria about people being kidnapped and assaulted after meeting others over the internet, losing funds to internet scammers and having their identity stolen. This was a genuine concern two decades ago and had many even swearing off using the internet. At the time, the internet for personal consumption was a relatively new concept and hadn’t yet matured and as such, sensationalism surrounded it.

Now, it is entirely normal to meet people over the internet, the activities of internet scammers have been widely publicized with most people knowing how to avoid them and law enforcement has become more skilled at preventing identity theft and other internet crimes.

While the crypto industry cannot control the actions of mainstream media, it is possible that the industry could weather whatever media storm might follow it and once the industry reaches its full maturity, the public will adjust its own perception and thus, its own behaviors.

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