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Buying drugs online was the first e-commerce conducted through the Internet; one might say that online drug transactions were part of the inception of the Internet itself. This paper presents research into the impact upon perceptions of risk and availability of illegal drug purchase through the online drug marketplace Silk Road.
Silk Road is reputation-based trading system similar to that of Amazon or eBay, however the main products for sale are illegal drugs. To purchase drugs through Silk Road, buyers learn technical skills to access the DarkNet through TOR, trade with the crypto-currency Bitcoin and employ several techniques to hide their identities. These practices blend these buyers with Hacker and cryptographic cultures, but are they the same? The main question this paper seeks to explore is when and how does an online drug marketplace become ‘normal’ and comfortable for participants?
Twenty online interviews will be conducted with buyers on Silk Road through encrypted, anonymous and synchronous text chat. A life history interview approach will be taken to provide a contextual understanding of participants’ experiences of buying illegal drugs, both online and offline over time. Thematic analysis will be conducted through NVivo to identify participants’ perspectives and experiences towards perceived risk and sense of comfort in the environment.
For users of Silk Road, this space and technical practice appears to be about risk management and anonymity when obtaining illegal drugs. However, even in the DarkNet, this marketplace is set up within the context of an online community with a forum and a technical space founded on the anarcho-libertarian philosophy of Agorism. This raises the questions as to how the users of Silk Road perceive their engagement with this online space that is both marketplace and an underground forum of people with shared values and technically anonymous identities.