Reputation is everything on the dark web. In a space where each person in a deal is anonymous, users need to be able to be reasonably sure they are going to receive the specific drug or weapon they ordered.
Now, recently launched AlphaBay dark web market is introducing a system that should allow practically any type of deal to be linked to a user's reputation through the use of "digital contracts" verified by AlphaBay.
Each contract costs $5 to initiate, paid to the market administrators, and it's entirely up to the users what to put in the contract.
Buyers and vendors can already make custom agreements. That isn't new, "but contracts are for more long term business," alpha02 told me over encrypted chat.
"For example, a user wants to buy X pieces a week of something, or someone wants to give special treatment," alpha02 said.
When one of the parties of the contract feels they've been cheated, they can, in a similar way to PayPal, raise a dispute. At this point, an AlphaBay moderator will step in and decide on an appropriate action. That might result in a "failed" contract being added to the offending user's profile, meaning that others can see that they have a habit of going back on their promises.
"Too much may result in banning," alpha02 continued.
Alternatively, if the contract is pulled off without a hitch and both parties emerge satisfied, the users' "completed" contract count will increase.
These contracts are the continuation of the reputation systems already present on the dark web, which users leave ratings of vendors and their products. That doesn't stop scamming outright, but it does help build an element of trust.
One problem that immediately jumps out is that whoever is moderating the contract could be biased towards one of the parties involved. The moderator "will get demoted if this happens," alpha02 said.
Presumably, since these contracts are just between two different users, those participating can decide to sell whatever they want. However, alpha02 says they will still try to keep the dealings within the rules of the market.
"Hitmen will never be allowed, as we don't want this kind of attention. We don't allow services that are here only to hurt people, like hitmen," alpha02 said.
In the volatile dark web, with scams, disappearances and site closures, anything that even hints at stability is probably going to be welcomed by users. Whether these contracts will actually be used remains to be seen, but they are another manifestation of an apparently lawless space regulating itself.