Silk Road: The Amazon.com of illegal drugs
The internet has made it infinitely less stressful to buy everything from books to pets and even 6-bedroom homes. And now, a new website called Silk Road is taking the relaxing convenience of e-commerce further, allowing users to buy and sell illegal drugs online. Let's face it, "making small talk with your pot dealer sucks," and "buying cocaine can get you shot," says Adrian Chen at Gawker. Here, a brief guide to the web's new hub of illegal drug sales:
What is Silk Road exactly?
"It's Amazon — if Amazon sold mind-altering chemicals," says Chen. In other words, it's an online forum for drug sellers and buyers to trade everything from LSD to heroin to ecstasy to pot. The administrator of the off-the-grid site, which launched in February, offers an anarchist-libertarian rationale for his business: "The state is the primary source of violence, oppression, theft and all forms of coercion."
And this really works?
It seems to. Mark, a software developer quoted by Gawker, was very pleased with his purchase of 10 tabs of LSD through the site. "It kind of felt like I was in the future," he says. Indeed, this sounds like a "libertarian dream," says Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic.
Can anyone access it?
In theory, yes, but it's certainly not as easy as Amazon.com. Getting to the site requires jumping through some technical hoops, namely downloading and installing an encrypted browser called Tor that conceals a user's identity and browsing habits.
How exactly do these drug deals work?
The site depends on a "reputation-based trading system," where users rank sellers and provide reviews based on past transactions. One sample: "Excellent quality. Packing, and communication. Arrived exactly as described." When it comes time to pay, forget PayPal. The site only accepts an online currency known as Bitcoin, which is supposedly untraceable, and favored by libertarians and anarchists. Then, a seller mails the goods. Silk Road encourages sellers to "creatively disguise" the drugs for shipping.
This is so illegal. Why haven't the authorities intervened?
It's only a matter of time. "One can expect that sooner or later folks who buy drugs on the site will be seeing something other than a friendly UPS man at their door," says Curtis Cartier at Seattle Weekly. Yeah, the site's anonymity "cuts both ways," says Chen. "How long until a DEA agent sets up a fake Silk Road account and starts sending SWAT teams instead of LSD to the addresses she gets?" Plus, Bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik warns that his currency system isn't totally anonymous. While users' identities are concealed, they are recorded in a log that law enforcement officials could potentially access, so "attempting major illicit transactions with Bitcoin... is pretty damned dumb."