Nothing feels more 90s than the dark web.
If you remember when Ask Jeeves was more of a household name than Google, you might be pleased to discover that an aesthetically primitive, nostalgically crude form of the Internet exists today.
The dark web, a.k.a. Tor Browser, holds one main draw, which is also its greatest fault: It allows you to search the Internet anonymously. This means you can also purchase things anonymously, and that's why people like it. It has become the premiere cyber black market.
It offers a flurry of drugs, underage pornography, guns, and even hirable assassins that have gotten both patrons and salesmen into legal quicksand.
Indeed, being a cyber Amsterdam isn't all that it's cracked up to be. In 2015, a local man admitted to supplying a drug ring with heroin and fentanyl, essentially heroin on heroin, through purchases made through the dark web.
The dark web itself is actually not of great concern to local police. Portland Police admit that they are not actively paying attention to people who simply visit the dark web, even if they click on links that could end in an illegal purchase. It's more likely that the dark web will lead to an arrest if it is explicitly relevant to an uninvolved case.
"In terms of dark web-related cases we intersect with, we're not seeing an increase, but we're starting to see cases," says Captain Mark Kruger from the Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division. "But we don't proactively instigate dark web investigations. Mostly what we're doing is looking at crimes that occur and if there's an intersection with the dark web, we might follow up on that investigation."
Perhaps the largest misconception of the dark web is that it's some anomaly like a virtual drug dealer, and one can only access it through knowing cool people or going to the right parties. Yet, it doesn't take being a mole person to gain access. All one has to do is download a program called Tor Browser. You can Google it and the process takes about as long as it does to get Spotify.
And that's what I did. I entered the dark web, and I can assure you that I've thought about putting black tape over my laptop camera ever since.
Immediately after downloading Tor Browser, you are reminded of simpler times. You bare witness to a crude, primitive pale green search engine. After typing anything, the search engine that takes over is called Duck Duck Go.
From here, you witness the Internet as you know it reflected in a funhouse mirror. Essentially, all of the sites you frequent have a Tor equivalent. For instance, there's a "Hidden Wiki" as opposed to Wikipedia, which is a great place to find categorical links for common black market searches, such as: Marketplace drugs, Marketplace commercial services, "erotic jailbait" and blogs.
I click on a link to the People's Drug Store. It offers a quarter gram of #4 heroin for $55 (mind you, quarter is spelled wrong), $37 for a quarter gram of crack cocaine and two MDMA capsules for $25. The drugs are displayed like specials you might see on a happy hour menu.
Meanwhile on Brainmagic, a site specializing in psychedelics, ten tabs of acid are marketed at $100.
Unfortunately, the growing popularity of online drug retailers correlates with the increasing fragility of dark web privacy. Too often, people think they're smarter than the system.
According to Motherboard, undercover FBI agents stalked online forums looking for commenters who might have suggested possessing ties to the founders of the Silk Road, the Dark Web's former largest black market.
Eventually, the Silk Road founder was caught promoting his business in a Silk Road chat room and subsequently had his location traced. Silkroad 2.0 has emerged in its stead.
The dark underbelly of the already-dark web offers underage pornography, hitmen, and hackers who will tinker with your ex's Facebook account for a reasonable sum of Bitcoin.
Bitcoin is the official dark web currency, distinguishing it as its own sovereign nation. If the word "Bitcoin" rings a bell, you've probably seen it on a Yelp checklist. And no—no restaurant in Portland will accept Bitcoin.
Sprint back to the Hidden Wiki and surprisingly, you'll find that underage pornography and sex chatrooms don't also fit under the "commercial services" category. These links are simply called "erotic jailbait."
In early 2016, the FBI cracked down and caught 1,500 people looking at child pornography on the dark web.
The dark web also specializes in offering services to help people cheat on their spouses.
Having a Facebook account on the dark web seems like an oxymoron considering social media often equals self-marketing. However, Facebook is into it. The social media giant has opted to work with Tor software in creating a Tor version of their website, so that some users can bask in increased privacy. But even Facebook admits that when you login, the service can still identify you, which hints at a somewhat aimless effort on their part.
Twitter also has a lost twin, and its bird icon is perched within the trenches of the dark web. But all you're going to find on the Tor version of Twitter is neo-Nazis. The hashtag #daywithoutjews is visibly utilized by AdolfHitler1. This is especially disturbing as it suggests "AdolfHitler" was already taken as a username.
Overall, I wouldn't wish the dark web on my worst enemies. I mainly say this in reaction to a pop-up ad that occurred as I clicked on a drug website that warned me that my privacy may be breached. Just a week later, my Mac browser was 10x slower, and similar to when grandma falls or grandpa has a stroke, I knew my five-and-a-half-year-old computer's days were numbered.
But if you're looking for an excuse to splurge on a new Macbook Pro, the dark web may be just the thing. It feels like Adobe Flash if it had an empire.