The user base for the dark web is quite small in comparison to the clearnet – a mere 2 million people per day use Tor (the largest anonymous web browser) compared to the 3.17 billion people who access the internet regularly.
However, that number is growing. Even for those who are not purchasing illicit goods, privacy and security on the surface is a serious issue that is growing in importance. The ability to use the dark web anonymously affords them the ability to not be tracked, targeted, or to have data stolen. Additionally, the dark web is becoming more user-friendly and accessible. As a testament to its changing nature, one can now log onto Facebook from the dark web, as the company launched their own dark website to provide a way for people to more securely access the site.
Beyond social networking, there are numerous other developments that are shaping the evolution of the dark web. Information is becoming easier to access. Purchasing goods and services on the dark web is easier and safer than ever before as the markets operating within it become more sophisticated. Merchants and programmers are constantly developing better consumer protections and safeguards for users – ultimately creating a self-regulating market which uses profiles, reviews, escrow payments, etc., similar to Amazon or eBay. Legitimate job boards are advertise programming and design work which is needed to keep up with the growing demand for better sites and a better user-experience. And most notably for the media industry, advertisements are being sold on dark web search engines.
All of these developments are, combined, lowering the risk of participation – whether it be as a consumer, a voyeur, or a vendor. At the same time, privacy and security issues continue to be an issue on the clearnet (the surface web most of use on a daily basis) for both consumers and organizations alike. The world is in a post-Snowden era of continuing to learn that private data is being captured, sold, and used in ways to which most of us have never consented.
The dark web however is increasingly safe, accessible, secure, and provides anonymity to its users. It is attracting more people, investment, and resources from people around the world – creating opportunities for early-adopters to build an “identity” and create value for others within a space that is far less noisy and competitive than the surface web. It’s certainly still a frontier which has its own limitations, but it’s growing in both size and relevance – surely there are a few brands who might be interested in that.
“The creation of functioning, competitive, anonymous markets…constantly at risk of being shut down by authorities, is a staggering achievement…and it’s that kind of innovation that is why those on the fringes are often the harbinger of what’s to come.”
– Jamie Barlett, Author, The Dark Net