Trust is a sought-after commodity in the dark web. The administrators of Evolution, one of the biggest dark web markets, were suspected of shutting up shop and disappearing with $12 million worth of Bitcoin just last week.
So what if there was a market that didn't rely on administrators; one that directly connected buyer to seller? What if every aspect of it: communicating, trading currency, and purchasing items, was based on a decentralised network, and all available from one interface? That's what one project is proposing.
"Shadow" has been in development for the last six months. Rather than just create a marketplace for trade, it's also attempting to encompass its own anonymous currency and encrypted messenger.
"I think the aim is to give people all of the tools they'd need to be able to do the things they normally do online—chat, trade etc.—but whilst maintaining their privacy," a spokesperson who goes under the handle SebSebastian, told me over encrypted chat.
Because the market will be decentralised, and its infrastructure spread across each node of the Shadow network, theoretically there is no central point (like, for example, a website's servers) for law enforcement, or anyone else, to target. And because there aren't any administrators, there shouldn't be a repeat of the Evolution case.
The Shadow client comes with a number of different, intertwined features. The first is ShadowCash, the privacy-focused digital currency, which is, naturally, based on the decentralised blockchain technology behind Bitcoin.
Next, there's the encrypted chat function, ShadowChat, which is not powered by the blockchain but runs on a decentralised network created by those who run the Shadow software. Like other decentralised systems, anyone who downloads the client software is then part of the peer-to-peer network, and can send messages to others without a third party.
Lastly, there's the yet-to-be-launched marketplace. In the designs shared with me, which are only a representation at this stage, the items listed include seeds, spices, and other innocuous items. But of course there's no reason that you couldn't list whatever you wanted, be that weapons, drugs, or stolen credit card data. SebSebastian said that, like the chat function, this feature is likely to run off the decentralised Shadow network.
Shadow's cryptocurrency and messenger functionality is currently available for download on Android, iOS, Windows, OSX and Linux systems. I used it on a lightweight, Ubuntu distribution, and it seemed to run smoothly after I had installed an extra set of dependencies for the client to run. SebSebastian told me the marketplace should be launched in the second quarter of this year.
It's best to think of Shadow as a platform, with each of the different components coming together to allow anonymous trade and communication. There are also plans for a Shadow Development Kit to be released, meaning that anyone could make applications to sit on top of the Shadow network.
At the moment, SebSebastian told me there are seven people working on the project: a mixture of software developers, sysadmins, and a cryptographer. But, being an open source project, they are looking for more to join.
Shadow isn't the first project to propose a decentralised market. OpenBazaar, which launched its latest beta phase late last year, has been going at it for a while.
But the marriage of Shadow's different components may be appealing to some. Rather than browsing a Silk Road-style site and finding the product you want, then laundering your bitcoins to remove your identity from them, then sending an encrypted message to the vendor with the postal details, and then placing your order, Shadow promises to do all of that through one interface.
Even if Shadow isn't the one to take off, the idea of a marketplace that (theoretically) can't be seized by law enforcement, or shut down by opportunistic administrators, is the next step in anonymous, online trade. The race for the first decentralised Silk Road is on.