Meth. Heroin. MDMA. Cocaine. Marijuana. All just a click away, and delivered to your door tomorrow.
Sound unbelievable? Well, that is precisely what online drug marketplace Atlantis is offering its customers. In fact, Atlantis is openly dealing those illicit drugs, and many more, in a similar fashion to buying books on Amazon. It has even started a social media advertising campaign.
In one such ad, posted to YouTube yesterday, Atlantis unabashedly brandishes its slogan: “The world’s best anonymous online drug marketplace.” The self-proclaimed virtual black market promises such perks as free sign-up, no purchasing fees, domestic and international shipping options, next day delivery, and an “Ebay style feedback system.”
The ad features a shutter-shades-wearing cartoon character named Charlie and a kitschy ukulele-xylophone soundtrack, explaining that Charlie has moved to a new city and no longer knows where to purchase his marijuana. Enter Atlantis, and now Charlie is “high as a kite.”
How can such an obviously illegal website not only exist, but openly advertise its services? Actually, Atlantis isn’t the first web-based black market. Silk Road, launched in 2011, pioneered the anonymous online drug trade. It utilizes what many call the “deep web,” which includes Internet content that cannot be reached by conventional search methods. Special software, called Tor, allows a user to remain anonymous and connects them safely to the deep web. The Independent tells us how:
“Tor, whose name is short for The Onion Router, is best-known for hosting outlawed sites such as Pirate Bay. It works by sending web traffic over a series of nodes – or onion routes – adding layers of encryption coding at various stages resulting in online users and browsers, along with the people hosting the websites it features, being untraceable by the authorities.”
Like a new dealer moving onto the block, but without the guns and violence, Atlantis is positioning itself to rival the well-established Silk Road service. Forbes reported that “the Silk Road … remains by far the biggest drug sales site, with close to 60,000 unique visitors a day by one researcher’s rough measure and $22 million annual sales according to a study last year.”
Open since March, Atlantis offers more than two thousand product listings, nearly all of which are illegal drugs. By contrast, Silk Road is pushing more than ten thousand products and services, including forged ID cards and passports, stolen credit cards, guns, explosives, gold bars, and – of course – lots and lots of heavy-duty drugs.
With all of its shady offerings accessible to anyone who is willing to jump through a few relatively simple hoops, Silk Road has only seen one official arrest. Last February, a 32-year-old Australian man named Paul Leslie Howard was sentenced to three and a half years in prison by a Melbourne judge for using the site to sell acid, meth, and cannabis. He was also importing “distribution-level” quantities of cocaine and MDMA. According to The Verge:
“Howard, a heavyset man who worked the door at night clubs, seemed genuinely remorseful. He was not a career drug dealer. He and his wife were having money problems when he read an article about Silk Road … Thanks to the site, he’d been living like a kingpin for about six months.”
Transactions on anonymous sites like Atlantis and Silk Road must also be anonymous. Using a credit card, with the cardholder’s information readily available and easy for authorities to access, would defeat the purpose of using the “deep web.” Users instead turned to the “cryptocurrency” Bitcoin.
Bitcoin isn’t real, physical money and it doesn’t adhere to the rules of a central banking authority. The virtual currency is “mined” on computers through complex computations, which require a high-powered system and a lot of patience.
“When a new batch of coins is ready, they're distributed in probabilistic accordance to whomever had the highest computing power in the mining process. The system is rigged so that no more than 21 million Bitcoins will ever exist—so the mining process will yield less and less as time goes on, and more people sign up,” explained LifeHacker.
Was it a coincidence that Atlantis began its advertising push on International Drug Day? Will the “deep web” come to the surface, exposing those behind operations like Atlantis and Silk Road? With the recent government spying revelations in the U.S., it appears to be an especially risky time for would-be drug dealers to take to the Internet. Still, it remains far safer than peddling on the streets – with a global customer base – and that fact alone will keep it going for the unforeseeable future.
Correction: The text has been updated to reflect that prostitution, assassinations, and child pornography are banned according to Silk Road's terms of service. These services are all available on the "deep web," but exist separately from Silk Road.