What is the darknet?

A darknet is any system that isolates and obfuscates internet traffic through a combination of hardware and software. Facebook has some features of a darknet. It does separate itself from the web and obfuscates users from each other depending on a combination of user-controlled and system controlled settings. Ultimately users are entirely exposed to the system so there is no hope of privacy.  ‘The’ darknet is the Tor darknet which is a different proposition. Along with other darknets like i2p and Freenet, it creates an anonymising layer over internet traffic using a combination of encryption and signal routing. Users operate with a degree of anonymity that is not possible with normal internet and web use, which has been compared to living in the Big Brother house in terms of privacy. Tor and the other darknets are part of a class of privacy promoting systems and products that include remailers, cryptocurrencies and VPNs. They differ in the degree of control and knowledge users have over the systems. Tor offers another ability which is that of private or hidden hosting. Services can be offered from anonymous servers. That ability opens up a whole host of uses, from criminal markets to encrypted chat and private discussion. It offers new qualities for commodity exchange and social interaction which is of interest to sociologists, criminologists, economists and privacy focused activists.

Author: Angus Bancroft

I'm a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh department of Sociology, studying illicit drug use, illicit markets and various shades of cyber crime. Email angus.bancroft@ed.ac.uk Tweet @angusbancroft

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