Who Uses the Dark Web, and Why?

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You've probably heard about the Dark Web, as it's been in the news, TV, and movies lately. Going off just popular culture references, it's easy to ascertain that the Dark Web has somewhat of an unsavory reputation; in fact, if you’re a House of Cards fan (spoilers alert!), you probably remember the whole scene with the reporter looking to dig up dirt on the Vice President and contacting someone on the Dark Web to do it - a " hacker" who then used a lot of very sophisticated equipment to dig further into the abyss of the Dark Web.

Realistic? Probably not, but it certainly makes for good TV! 

What is the appeal of the Dark Web?

The reporter in House of Cards decided to visit the Dark Web for a very specific reason, but why do most people in real life decide to go on the Dark Web? It's not a place you can just drop by online (read How to Access the Dark Web for more information) casually; it does take some doing and a certain level of technological sophistication.

Anonymity

The Dark Web’s offer of anonymity is definitely a huge draw for people who are looking to procure drugs, weapons, and other illicit items, but it’s also gained notoriety as a safe haven of sorts for journalists and people who need to share information but can’t share it safely.

For example, many people visited a storefront called the Silk Road on the Dark Web. The Silk Road was a large marketplace within the Dark Web, mostly infamous for the buying and selling of illegal narcotics, but also offering a wide variety of other goods for sale.

Users could only purchase goods here using Bitcoins; virtual currency that is hidden inside the anonymous networks that make up the Dark Web. This marketplace was shut down in 2013 and is currently under investigation; according to several sources, there was over one billion worth of goods sold here before it was taken offline.

So while visiting the Dark Web can certainly include illegal activities – for example, buying stuff on the Silk Road, or digging up illegal images and sharing them – there are also people using the Dark Web who are legitimately in need of anonymity because their life is in danger or the information they are in possession of is too volatile to share publicly. Journalists have been known to use the Dark Web to contact sources anonymously or store sensitive documents. 

Interested in hiding your tracks more securely online? Read Anonymous Browsing 101.

The bottom line is this: if you are on the Dark Web, you’re there because you don’t want anyone to know what you’re doing or where you are, and you’ve taken very specific steps to make that a reality. 

Privacy and the Dark Web

Privacy concerns are on many people's minds lately, especially as more evidence comes to light that our activities online can possibly be monitored by various entities. The Dark Web could have uses for people who want to stay anonymous and private, for whatever reason - perhaps you just aren't keen on the idea that your personal browsing habits could be under scrutiny by outside parties.

Is privacy online really possible? Read Ten Ways to Protect Your Web Privacy.

However, it's important to clarify that the Dark Web and the tools you use to access it – to stay anonymous – are two completely different things. Many people use anonymizers, the most well-known of which is Tor, to make sure their activities online are private - and never actually visit the Dark Web. 

Information safety

Journalists use the Dark Web to share information and to receive sensitive information from anonymous whistleblowers – for example, the New York Times has a secure lockbox on the Dark Web that people can send files anonymously to.It's becoming a haven for those who need to share information safely.

For those countries where Internet use is restricted; anonymizing tools and proxies can help with safe transfer of information; however, this is not limited to merely accessing the Dark Web, but also to merely access the Surface Web, the Web that most of us use on a daily basis without any issues (read more about the Surface Web in What is the Dark Web?).

Privacy, safety, and anonymity

It is inevitable that the Dark Web will continue to grow and evolve; the appeal of an anonymous pipeline for various activities (both legal and illegal) is just too appealing to resist. As more people are growing concerned their completely legal online activities, communications, etc. are being monitored,  tools that help us attain privacy will also grow in popularity. 

Next: read What Will You Find on the Dark Web? or What is the Difference Between the Dark Web and the Invisible Web?