Gawker reports on your aunt’s new favorite website, if your aunt loves tar heroin:
Silk Road, a digital black market that sits just below most internet users’ purview, does resemble something from a cyberpunk novel. Through a combination of anonymity technology and a sophisticated user-feedback system, Silk Road makes buying and selling illegal drugs as easy as buying used electronics—and seemingly as safe. It’s Amazon—if Amazon sold mind-altering chemicals.
Here is just a small selection of the 340 items available for purchase on Silk Road by anyone, right now: a gram of Afghani hash; 1/8th ounce of “sour 13” weed; 14 grams of ecstasy; .1 grams tar heroin. A listing for “Avatar” LSD includes a picture of blotter paper with big blue faces from the James Cameron movie on it. The sellers are located all over the world, a large portion from the U.S. and Canada.
Getting to Silk Road is tricky. The URL seems made to be forgotten. But don’t point your browser there yet. It’s only accessible through the anonymizing network TOR, which requires a bit of technical skill to configure.
Silk Road cuts down on scams with a reputation-based trading system familiar to anyone who’s used Amazon or eBay. The user Bloomingcolor appears to be an especially trusted vendor, specializing in psychedelics. One happy customer wrote on his profile: “Excellent quality. Packing, and communication. Arrived exactly as described.” They gave the transaction five points out of five.
ellers feel comfortable openly trading hardcore drugs because the real identities of those involved in Silk Road transactions are utterly obscured. If the authorities wanted to ID Silk Road’s users with computer forensics, they’d have nowhere to look. TOR masks a user’s tracks on the site. The site urges sellers to “creatively disguise” their shipments and vacuum seal any drugs that could be detected through smell. As for transactions, Silk Road doesn’t accept credit cards, PayPal , or any other form of payment that can be traced or blocked. The only money good here is Bitcoins.
Bitcoins have been called a “crypto-currency,” the online equivalent of a brown paper bag of cash. Bitcoins are a peer-to-peer currency, not issued by banks or governments, but created and regulated by a network of other bitcoin holders’ computers. (The name “Bitcoin” is derived from the pioneering file-sharing technology Bittorrent.) They are purportedly untraceable and have been championed by cyberpunks, libertarians and anarchists who dream of a distributed digital economy outside the law, one where money flows across borders as free as bits.
To purchase something on Silk Road, you need first to buy some Bitcoins using a service like Mt. Gox Bitcoin Exchange. Then, create an account on Silk Road, deposit some bitcoins, and start buying drugs. One bitcoin is worth about $8.67, though the exchange rate fluctuates wildly every day. Right now you can buy an 1/8th of pot on Silk Road for 7.63 Bitcoins. That’s probably more than you would pay on the street, but most Silk Road users seem happy to pay a premium for convenience.