by Sarah Gotschall
As I mentioned in my CALI conference wrap-up, my favorite presentation was Deborah Ginsberg’s Blocked! What is Blockchain and What Will It Mean for the Future of Law? While explaining blockchains and cryptocurrencies, Ms. Ginsberg mentioned using Coinbase app to buy some bitcoin. My interest was sparked, and I immediately installed the app and soon became the proud owner of $10.00 of Bitcoin! Instantly my new crypto funds were burning a hole in my pocket, so when she mentioned the dark web, I was struck by a desire to purchase something goofy on the dark web, and to document the goofiness for a blog post. Following some how-to-access-the dark-web-on-Android-phone directions, I installed Orbot and Orfox, the Tor network connection software and the Tor browser for Android phones.
For my first search, a friend suggested uranium oxide, a component in antique pottery glazes. Distrustful that something called Orfox would hide me from the FBI, I decided that trying to buy uranium online seemed only slightly less ill-conceived than actually using it in a pottery glaze, so I decided to search drugs instead. After clicking around the Orfox browser, I arrived at duckduckgo.com, “The search engine that doesn’t track you.” After searching for “buy fentanyl” the TRUE dark side of the dark web was revealed…it is extremely slow!! The search ultimately retrieved only ads for CVS and descriptions of Fentanyl.
My next idea was to find an Amazon-for-contraband site, so I consulted a dark web market comparison site. The soon-to-be defunct Alphabay was listed first, so I signed up, but by the time I signed in again, those pesky feds had torpedoed the site. So I moved down the list to Dream Market (link not going to work without a Tor connection and browser). After signing up, I found an interesting list of categories to buy with bitcoin.
Naturally I wanted something cheap (since it would likely never arrive) and not notably illegal (in case it actually did). Also, I didn’t want to buy something that might add to global misery. Prescription drugs it was! I poked around for something under $10 that shipped to the US and decided upon blueberry erectile dysfunction medicine.
With shipping (which I miscalculated – see below), the bitcoin total was 0.00471 (0.00471 = $11.88 on 6/30/2017). I had to re-up my Coinbase coffers since I only had $10.00. I was a bit conflicted about spending my bitcoin, because, what if the value skyrocketed and I had spent it on blueberry erectile dysfunction medicine!? (Post script – it did!). I transferred my 0.00471 into the ether and was slightly surprised when it actually showed up in my Dream Market account. When I was checking out, the form had a field for address but not name so I just entered my address. After being contacted by the seller for my name, a few days later, I logged in again to discover that my order had been cancelled because I included the wrong postage amount, somehow selecting EU rather an US as the shipping destination. Sigh… On the bright side, the seller had refunded my bitcoin!
I placed my order again and several weeks later became the proud owner of a package from a purported Hungarian named Nagy Marton. Hopefully for Nagy, this is a fake name but according to Google Maps, the address is real. What a world we live in when you can Google an address to find a picture of an apartment building on the other side of the world!
Interestingly, Nagy described the contents as a SD card.
Inside was a slightly smushed blister pack of what appeared to be the promised medicine. It looked legitimate and purported to be from a pharmaceutical distributor in Mumbai which actually has a website. It was blueberry flavored (so it said) and wasn’t even expired! I wouldn’t trust it to the level of actually consuming it, but the fact that it showed up and appears to be legitimate means that my experiment was a success!
I am of the camp that the more we know as law librarians, the better we are at our jobs. Who knows when a faculty member or other patron will need information about purchasing on the dark web? And I’ve done it so you don’t have to.