Down the Deep Dark Web - Smith + Crown
Opinion |

Down the Deep Dark Web

A new movie offers an introduction to the dark web and debates around online privacy, anonymity, and personal data. Those who don't know what the dark web is should watch it.

In a new move Down the Deep, Dark Web, journalist Yuval Orr takes a tour of online privacy, security, and the dark web. It’s a movie worth watching for anyone who doesn’t know what the dark web is beyond “maybe the Silk Road?”

What is the dark web?

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies broadly will likely never shed a connection with dark markets and the dark web. The high-profile arrest and trial of Ross Ulbrict, founder of The Silk Road, associated Bitcoin and illegal activity in mainstream news for years. The early enthusiasts of cryptocurrencies were also heavy proponents of privacy and free trade–not necessarily pro-drug but anti-regulation-against-drugs. The connection was also inevitable–cryptocurrencies are like digital cash, and cash has long been the preferred currency of illegal activity.

Debates over dark markets get polarized quickly. Some see private free trade and anonymity as tantamount to freedom. Others see them as tools for terrorists and hobbies for conspiracy theorists. It is a difficult debate to wade into, particularly for someone without strong opinions about privacy.

Down the Deep, Dark Web follows one journalist’s journey into the topic of dark markets and the dark web. He wades into the debate and he takes the reader along. He starts with the basic questions most people would ask, such as, what is the dark web?


His questions take him to Tor and online dark markets. He speaks with cypherpunks and other strong proponents of privacy in the age of digital surveillance. He speaks with an activist about the uses of Tor in the Middle East. Several terrorist attacks rock Europe during the course of his investigation, and he asks himself and the viewer some tough questions along the way: is anonymity really that important in an era of ISIS terrorist attacks?

Overall, the movie is less a debate than a light accounting of pro-dark-web arguments. He doesn’t interview many people who are adamantly against the dark web. Most subjects are self-described crypto-anarchists. But that’s ok, because he is trying to humanize a viewpoint often marginalized, belittled, or silenced. It certainly feels less one-sided than the (sensational) official synopsis suggests.

It is a great introduction to a complex and touchy topic. Whether it simply rewards the viewer with an informative hour or inspires him/her to learn more, it’s worth watching.

Blockchain technology and online privacy

Bitcoin and blockchains intersect with privacy in far more complex ways than anonymous online activity and market freedom from a surveillance state. Identity management in the digital age is a system full of holes. Data establishing official, legal identity is spread across multiple institutions, and many forms can be forged. Private data is often collected without a person’s knowledge, packaged and analyzed, (maybe) de-identified with unknown methods, and sold to third parties, who might buy data packages from other sellers. The security measures for each of these parties at each of these points is also unknown and often inadequate.

In short, the situation is more nuanced than resisting state surveillance – people really have no idea where their data go.

Many blockchain projects are trying to give people control over their own data, so they can disclose it on their terms. This could include transactions, relationships, and personal identity.

  • Upcoming Zcash is using zero-knowledge proofs to enable privacy on an open blockchain
  • DASH aimed to provide true anonymous transactions when it became more obvious that Bitcoin wasn’t truly anonymous
  • Companies such as Tieron and Gem are exploring applications of blockchains in healthcare, where electronic health record management is a nightmare
  • Consensus 2016 had a strong theme of identity management as both a problem for blockchain applications and a potential use-case

In light of this, the movie offers a more cynical message: if we are really so cavalier about our online activity today, are we ready to manage our own data?