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6 December 2018

The Truth Behind The Dark Web

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When most of us browse the Internet, we’re using the Surface Web. That is, anything online that can also be found through main search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. When you read the news, buy something online or visit one of your daily websites (like wtppl.org), you are browsing the Surface Web.

If this is new to you, then it may surprise you to know that the Surface Web only makes up around a thousandth of the entire Internet!  The rest is what’s known as the Deep Web: content invisible to search engines containing databases, password-protected sites, intranets, medical files, academic journals and archives.

Located in the Deep Web is a tiny area called the Dark Web (eerie music plays in the background.

If you’ve heard of it before, chances are you’ve learned that it is an evil place where criminals can hire assassins, buy illegal drugs and weapons, and exchange disturbing pictures and videos. Unfortunately, yes, as in all areas of life, the Dark Web contains criminal elements. But that’s not the whole story…

Tor - the onion networkThe technology that helped create the Dark Web was and is still largely funded by the US government. An example of this is Tor, which is short for “The Onion Router”. It relies on a complex system that channels communication through a number of encrypted layers (hence the reference to an onion). It was initially developed to enable spies and intelligence agencies to anonymously send and receive messages (obviously, this is very important for the likes of Bond).

Compared to the Surface Web, which is constantly monitored by governments, the Dark Web allows for more anonymity and privacy. Unfortunately, just like spies, criminals also like digital alleyways and faintly lit corners to go about their business.

However, not everything on the Dark Web is bad. In fact, less than half of Dark Web activity is illegal. Well, think about bloggers, journalists and activists in countries where there is a high risk of state censorship and persecution. This is why, say, an organisation like Reporters Without Borders actually recommends the use of Tor as part of its survival kit. Other organisations, like Human Rights Watch, recommend the use of Tor to reach citizens in repressive regimes who lack access to independent and free media.

Apart from human rights organisations, media groups and citizens that long for freedom, IT professionals and business executives also use the Dark Web for things such as testing firewalls, providing emergency internet access and sharing sensitive information.

Just as we feel safe in the knowledge that law enforcement and security cameras keep us from harm as we go about our daily lives, government surveillance on the Internet can be a good thing. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and recent revelations about Facebook’s role in the spread of Russian fake news, both the US government and Europe are exploring ways to better regulate Internet giants such as Facebook and protect the privacy of citizens.

However, for the 2.8 billion citizens who are NOT FREE, government surveillance of Internet activity can be very scary. When speaking up online can get you on a no-fly list, land you in prison, or even killed, the Internet fails to deliver on its promise and turns democracy into a dangerous affair.

We want to build an open space that is safe, beyond the reach of censorship, and accessible to anyone, wherever they are and whoever they are (not you, Putin). And because we’re using blockchain, we can go far beyond the Dark Web and make sure that no government, no greedy corporation, and no leader suffering from a PR-crisis (remember the time when Xi Jinping was compared to Winnie The Pooh) can ever silence the unstoppable will of people.