I have discussed the many sub-communities within “the” Bitcoin community, which embrace different, and frequently conflicting goals and stories about “what Bitcoin is for”. (Aside: Coindesk has just released a survey of Bitcoin users that probably has interesting information. They have only published a fragment (so I can’t read it), the rest of the information is not public, or, so far as I can tell, peer reviewed.)
The fastest growing sector—despite big deal press releases—is the illicit sector, AKA the dark web. (Historic note: the term “dark web” used to mean something quite different, referring to ethically neutral but technologically “unpublic” areas of the web—think corporate intranets, here. Nowadays it appears to generally mean gray- or blackmarket commerce and crime.)
It is interesting to see the prejudices of Bitcoinistas unconsciously paraded in uncritical “reporting” of these topics. (Okay, I should expect this from a group, some of who dote on cranks like Rand Paul.)
Case in point, Coindesk’s report on dark net drug sales has the astonishing headline, “Survey: Silk Road Closure Didn’t Stop Dark Web Drug Surge”. The actual survey is a serious effort to do a difficult job, and gives us at least tentative insight into what is really going on. (And it is published so we can all learn from it and check it’s methods—Coindesk, take note of proper procedure.)
The summary of the survey notes that some of the comments from convicted felon Ross Ulbright are echoed by his customers. E.g., they like buying drugs on line rather than on the street.
The Coindesk article chooses to argue the case that the arrest and conviction of Ulbricht had no deterrent effect. Obviously, the actual survey could not possible show that, nor does any sensible person believe that one prosecution would “deter” drug dealers everywhere.
The survey documents that the customers perceive advantages to using the dark markets, especially in reduced risks of violence. That may or may not be a real effect for the retail buyers, but it is certainly an iffy claim about the whole business.
Besides the drug trade, Bitcoin is also facilitating the explosion of ransomware. A BBC report notes that easily available kits may be purchased, and the payoff can be many times the outlay. And the payment of choice is Bitcoin. Ouch.
It is increasingly obvious that, while Bitcoin did not invent ransomware (or drug markets, for that matter), it is a perfect technology for this use case, and has contributed to the growth.
Let me point out that it isn’t necessary to be either a freedom fighter nor a technical wizard. All you have to do is by a kit and follow the directions. Not heroic in any sense. And I can’t see even a shred of social good that comes from extortion games.
I’m beginning to worry a bit about the doublethink needed to follow cryptocurrency. The public news is all about helping the poor (microcommerce, remittances, etc.) and revolutionizing conventional finance. This is still mostly talk. Meanwhile, under the surface, the technology is fueling dangerous criminality. There is real action happening, but it is largely undesirable. This is not a good thing for “the Bitcoin community”: most people will encounter Bitcoin in the context of a crime or illicit deal.