Light (and the consumer) comes to the dark net

It’s an open secret in tech circles that the Tor dark net browser grants consumers a vastly improved service ethic, an ad-free experience (or, at least, a highly ad-resistant one), and wholesale anonymity. Privacy - in an era when the backlash needs to manifest before it disappears entirely - is a huge benefit of being dark, too.

Criminal and other less savoury realities are present on the dark net, it’s true; but if one logs onto Tor, it’s remarkable how similar the experience is to Google Chrome or any other mainstream browser. People are starting to realise that, while the bad stuff is there when on the dark net, one doesn’t have to encounter it. What they do encounter is a phenomenal service ethic, a world run strictly on user reviews, the ability to visit any site and go anywhere as on the surface web, and of course, privacy.

Tor browser is indeed what every browser should have been - an anonymous internet experience. If it wasn’t for Google’s insatiable appetite for sucking up every single shred of personal data it can find, Chrome could have been an anonymous experience. While Tor browser enables criminal activity sometimes of the very worst kind, it also enables a very real consumer experience of quick service, happy accommodation of preferences and prompt shipping.

For this reason alone - it’s high standards of service - millions of users are surfing with Tor. Almost a third of Americans were on Tor in 2018, and that number keeps growing.

The dark net is an app download away

Surfing the dark net is as simple as downloading the Tor browser. Thereafter, whenever and wherever users go online, they’re anonymous. If developers had been thinking of the consumer experience rather than long term profit when designing browsers, the entire VPN market wouldn’t exist, either.

Tor keeps its users anonymous by employing heavy encryption and bouncing off servers constantly, avoiding regulators’ attempts to pin and shut it down. That’s a simplified version of things, but essentially how Tor sites defy detection and remain a private experience.

An increasing number of businesses call on outside support to gain clarity on Tor’s workplace use. As IT consultancy is becoming increasingly popular amongst SMBs, so too are technicians dealing more with educating users about the dark net. The fact is employing Tor is no less enabling - and probably safer, from an espionage perspective - than surfing with Chrome.

Anyone who has switched to regular Tor browsing can confirm there are aspects to Chrome and Firefox that make them easy to miss. Autofill and other prediction software don’t always work with Tor, depending on a user’s keeper. Some functionality can be replicated, such as storing passwords in Tor browser, for example. This is anathema for the average Tor user though, as they seldom add plugins or store anything in the browser to maintain an anonymity so hard won.

In some countries, anonymity is a lifesaver

Although the negative side of Tor is often highlighted, there are wholly beneficial aspects to an anonymous browser that most of us never have to consider. Citizen journalists in countries of oppression - as well as many professionals - employ Tor to mask their activities from authorities’ snooping behaviour. Tor even granted users the ability to send emails anonymously.

After an FBI raid in 2013 on server premises, Tor Mail was shut down. It had previously allowed users to send mail within the dark and surface net along the same untraceable lines as the browser still maintains. Today, there are services that still allow one to send mail anonymously on any browser, but they are (like VPNs) for-profit add-ons regular users might employ instead of a Gmail or Yahoo address. If users are prepared to pay for it, anonymity in the light of day is possible - although it’s never complete.

Tor users typically insist on wholesale anonymity, and the Tor user group is today something of a rebellious tribe. As Facebook and others come before tribunals for shamelessly selling personal data (among other manipulations), millions across the planet have decided to remove themselves from what now presents as unthinking trust in the FAANG companies.

Who’s on the dark net, really?

Parallel to the growth of consumer use, sites on the dark net are incredibly varied. It represents but a small percentage of the overall net, yet Facebook, for example, already has a dark net presence. Many other reputable names can be found there too, as business cottons onto the fact that consumers are shifting.

As to why more people are climbing onto it, the reasons vary greatly, although some themes are common across the globe. Privacy is paramount, however, and almost all Tor users are adamant that they maintain theirs.

While it’s an unfortunate aspect of the dark net that some users need the privacy it provides because they’re involved in criminal activities (such as either cyber fraud or the abuse of women and minors), the majority are there for the legitimate aspects of privacy. It’s often a fine line between criminal and cheeky as, for example, some 1,500 Ring passwords are already available on the dark net. This kind of name and shame publishing is typical on Tor browser, and it’s debatable whether it constitutes a crime or a public service, at times.

Something like exposing weaknesses in Amazon’s Ring is important, as adoption is proceeding apace. Privacy advocates fear a nightmare world of constant surveillance once apps like Ring become mainstream, so leaked intel (like user passwords) are startling yet necessary information for consumers, too.

The USA is leading uptake on Tor, although it can be imagined - and must be, since figures like these will never surface - that many Chinese and other oppressed citizens employ Tor simply to get away from constantly prying government eyes. South America isn’t far behind, while Europeans are also taking to Tor in droves, making the EU the third largest uptake arena of the last few years.

As consumers cross over in droves to Tor and similar services, the dark net isn’t so dark anymore - and looks like it’s getting brighter by the year.

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