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1 Mar 2013 / Julie

there’s an illegal market in the deep web. and they’re selling books.

So I’m reading this article from Fast Company in January. It’s called Inside The Underweb: Home To Stolen Credit Cards, Pedophiles, Hitmen, Drug Dealers–And Free Speech.

Most of us librarians understand the deep web - that layer of things existing on the Internet that aren’t indexed, are behind paywalls or other authentication barriers, and otherwise unavailable through, say, everyone’s favorite search engine.

The article linked above speaks about the web under the deep web – encrypted networks and huge chunks of underweb traffic that is mostly made up of free speech communication and democracy activists.

And then there’s the flip side. (because every positive thing for free speech, openness, and access will inevitably also attract those who would be doing less-than-savory things. Illegal, even.

The article talks about Tor, the underweb network that comes with it’s own software you can easily download (i haven’t tried but FastCo’s sidebar explained it nicely) and worked it’s way to the Silk Road and discussion of bitcoin (which, incidentally , i had just heard about recently on NPR one morning on the way to work.

The Silk Road is the ebay-esque “anonymous marketplace” where you can buy all sorts of illegal things – drugs, weapons. Crazy shit. And, because FastCo likes it’s data, and i’m fairly sure Silk Road isn’t publishing any quarterly profit reports, FastCo noted this academic paper by a guy at Carnegie Mellon University about the Silk Road. Which of course I checked out.

The pdf of which i’d actually like to draw your attention to. Check out page 9. It has a chart that lays out the categories of items being sold on the Silk Road (TSR) and how much each of those categories represents the whole of business happening on TSR. Here, i’ll paste in the graph so you can see maybe what popped out at me:

"Proportion of items in the marketplace as a function of the number of sellers. We observe fairly high diversity, with each seller selling at most 1.5% of the total number of items in Silk Road."

You may notice the fifth item on the list. Books. Right below and in a list of illegal items is “books.”

Books.

Now, unfortunately the paper doesn’t go into any detail as to what kinds of books might fall into this category (as it is not the point of the paper) other than the Hacking for Beginners he calls out for an example of how an item page looks (and which looks a bit on the self-published side to me based on the cover pictured).

Almost more fascinating is the fact that almost 44% of shipping sites originate in the US. And 35% of the shipping destinations is the US. Which makes me wonder – where are the books going? And while it might not be illegal in the originating location, maybe it is at the destination (49.70% of destinations were “worldwide).

So while you can also buy drugs and money, you can also buy information. in the container of a book.

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m just completely fascinated by this.

It’s fascinating that there’s an underground anonymous network (Tor, etc). Fascinating that there’s something like the Silk Road. Fascinating – and most intriguing to me – that there’s a whole category of “books” being sold in an illicit market.

I am totally resisting the urge to find this site and see what they’ve got under “books.” What kind of books would you want that you couldn’t get though less shady means? Further proof that knowledge is indeed power – and sometimes not always power for good. (Not that that is ANY reason to EVER prohibit someone’s access to information!)

My proximity to some serious government agencies and my most profound desire to not accidentally (and most innocently) end up on a list somewhere, curbs my desire to go poking around the shadier things on the internet.

But still, fascinating, right?

 

Update: According to Wikipedia the owner of the Silk Road is “the Dread Pirate Roberts.” Illegal merch pushers and hackers who still have a soft spot in their hearts for The Princess Bride. Gotta love it.

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