Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A Year Ago The Internet Lost A Chance To Disrupt A Truly Evil Global Industry

Posted by Tom Foremski - October 5, 2014

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In 2012, a 21 year old man was fatally injured in a drugs-related shooting near my home in San Francisco.

A year ago the FBI shut down the online illegal drugs market Silk Road. Jake Swearingen at The Atlantic, reports that so far, there's no successor among a motley collection of sites:

At DeepDotWeb, an anonymous editor chronicles everything darknet related . . . [He] predicts that the crazy explosion of smaller markets may be on the wane.

"The market was pretty stable for the last few month unlike first six months of 2014 . . . I believe that it will stay pretty much the same with some markets popping up and some shutting down from this reason or another until we will see some new technology—probably one that will offer decentralization of the markets."

Foremski's Take: With the closure of Silk Road, the Internet lost a chance to disrupt a truly evil global industry. 

Silk Road was able to create a protected market that kept money out of the hands of violent street gangs and international criminal syndicates.

And through its buyer reviews that highlighted the best quality products, it protected people (many US citizens) from exposure to the poisons that adulterate all street drugs.

A large enough Silk Road, or a collection of similar services, could have seriously challenged the revenues of street corner gangs, and international mobsters, on a scale that the US war on drugs has failed to do.

And it's far better for society if drug distributors compete online than by murdering each other in the tens of thousands, as in Mexico.

The beneficiaries of the war against dark markets are the international criminal syndicates, hit men, and the corruptors of government officials that enable the global drug trade to continue on as before, in staggering quantities.

It would be a game changer if VCs invested in startups that targeted disrupting the drugs trtade.

This story is not done yet. As The Atlantic article points out, the next generation of Silk Roads will be smarter and stealthier. And I'm certain their products will be of a far higher quality and safety than street drugs because for the first time the best producers will be able to directly compete against each other.

The Walter Whites of the future will be able to remain mild-mannered and middle-class. They will become small-batch artisanal producers, and they won't be forced to learn the murderous ways of the drug trade. Lost mail, keyword wars, and surprise changes in Google's search algorithm will be the most dramatic events in a future sequel to "Breaking Bad."

This next generation of Silk Roads will pose an even greater disruptive threat to the international drugs business than the first. And this is where the next attack on dark markets will undoubtably spring from: mercenary hackers working for the cartels.

But that would become a hugely embarrassing common cause for US drug enforcement efforts. It wouldn't look good if the pursuit of online dark markets by US law enforcement agencies directly benefited the business of the cartels.

Which is why this could all lead to more sensible drug laws, better treatment of addicts, and improved education for all. It'll help shrink all the drugs markets, on the darknets and in the dark corners of the street. 

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The Holmes Report names Tom Foremski one of the top 25 Innovators of 2013.




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