In the hidden corners of the internet business is booming. The first large digital black market, The Silk Road, was shut down in 2013. Since then it has been replaced by Silk Road 2.0 which already is bigger than the original by an order of magnitude. Dozens of other markets also now exist on the dark web, usually only accessible through anonymizing yourself on the Tor network. Many of these market places have certain restrictions, for example no guns or child porn, but for the most part they exist without any prohibition on sales. Illegal drugs are the most common items.
Research is beginning to come out that suggests that The Silk Road and its kin have made drugs safer. According to one paper, “With Silk Road functioning to considerable degree at the wholesale/broker market level, its virtual location should reduce violence, intimidation and territorialism.” Buyers also rate and review sellers which means that the highest ranked sellers are the most consistent. Since drug overdoses are often caused by inconsistencies with the purity of drugs, evidence suggests these markets also make the experience more predictable and thus safer for the end user as well.
What about human smuggling? How would a digital black market based on reputation affect another illegal and often dangerous trade?
(Human smuggling implies consent between the migrant and smuggler. Human trafficking is when humans cross borders against their will. This is only about human smuggling.)
Thousands of migrants die each year crossing borders. Around 2,000 Africans drown in the Mediterranean each year and large numbers are left for dead in the deserts between Mexico and the United States. Bad actors within the trade also take advantage in other ways that are hard to track, often by robbing or raping their ‘customers.’ The smugglers future business is unlikely to suffer in the way that a merchant on The Silk Road would in a comparable scenario. I’m not concerned with encouraging or discouraging the act, I’m interested to know if it can be safer.
Can a digital marketplace be created to facilitate human smuggling contracts, and could they be developed in such a way as to make the practice safer?