Dark Net and the Economics of Mutual Anonymity


In 2001, Michael K Bergman, an American academic and entrepreneur and one of the foremost authorities about the Internet, published a paper estimating the “Deep Web” to be 400-550 times larger than the known Googleverse.  What does this mean for everything we claim to know about the web, social media, and social influence marketing?

Andy Becket wrote an excellent investigative piece called  The dark side of the internet that I highly recommend reading.  Among many great points, Andy describes the deep web:

“The darkweb”; “the deep web”; beneath “the surface web” – the metaphors alone make the internet feel suddenly more unfathomable and mysterious. Other terms circulate among those in the know: “darknet”, “invisible web”, “dark address space”, “murky address space”, “dirty address space”. Not all these phrases mean the same thing. While a “darknet” is an online network such as Freenet that is concealed from non-users, with all the potential for transgressive behaviour that implies, much of “the deep web”, spooky as it sounds, consists of unremarkable consumer and research data that is beyond the reach of search engines. “Dark address space” often refers to internet addresses that, for purely technical reasons, have simply stopped working.

The implications of the Dark Web are subtle.  Like “Dark Matter” in space, the dark web may behave as a multiplier to account for that which cannot be explained except by some invisible, albeit, constant force.  We can assume consistence because the common thread that transcends the entire Internet is still conversation. The ability to have a conversation as well as the ability to reject a conversation is part of the Dark Web and still a conversation nonetheless.  The opposite of publicity is anonymity – if the universe seeks balance so too can we expect the web to equalize around the average anonymity of conversation.

Entrepreneurial factors also appear rational when applied to the Dark Web, specifically true ownership.  Ownership includes the right to restrict access from others.  In the Googleverse of search rankings and old economics, watered down and largely unenforceable copyright laws create a wasteful game of Cease and Desist among content providers – not exactly a safe place to converse.  The inability to establish ownership and boundaries of user generated content is a primary constraint on monetization.

Meanwhile, the Dark Web utilizes a knowledge inventory where trusted people of known affinity are given free access to share freely – and anonymously.   Ironically, anonymity improves the quality of a conversation by eliminating the irrelevant data that often constrains conversation.   It is worthwhile to consider anonymity as a possibles monetization factor – pay to hide?

Not all anonymity is corrupt and perverse.  People spend a great deal of time and effort developing a database that represents a knowledge inventory and they don’t want someone to just copy it.   Trade secrets are the great competitive financial instrument of capitalism and depend on secrecy.  For better or for worse, political activity in non-free countries such as China, Iran, and Afghanistan also rely on anonymity. The more time people spend on the web, the more of their personal life that would want to keep to themselves – the ability to avoid Google bots is a tangible conversation.

The phenomenon to consider is that people with mutual anonymity are able to share more freely.  Ironically, anonymity improves the quality of a conversation by eliminating the irrelevant data that often constrains conversation.  Conversely, efforts to constrain anonymity destroys freedom of the web.  Tell that to your web analytics team.

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