Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Legitimate Uses For The Dark Web

Jim Nolan

Chances are you probably don't spend a lot of time in the "dark web." It's the part of the Internet that's populated by drug dealers, child pornographers, and sex traffickers. They access it by the browser Tor and can remain anonymous.

But there are legitimate uses for the dark web, according to cyber-security expert Dr. Richard Harknett, head of UC's Department of Political Science.  Dissidents use it to communicate so they don't get in trouble with their government. He says, "We see democratic reformers in autocratic societies using the dark web to get around the censorship and some cases state police apparatuses that exist in more authoritarian states."

Facebook says last year a million people accessed the social media giant via the dark web a month. Those are people who are normally blocked from using Facebook in their country.

Journalists utilize the dark web so they or their sources can remain anonymous. For example, The New York Times has a lock box there. Mexican reporters and human rights lawyers investigating the Mexican government have had to use it. Harknett says Mexico is targeting them and hacking into their cell phones.

There are times when somebody could want medical advice they might not feel comfortable asking their family physician about. Often times this centers around drug use. Spanish doctor Fernando Caudevilla goes by Dr. X and began offering advice on the Dark Web in 2013. Reportedly in just three months he got 600 questions and 50-thousand visits to his site. Caudevilla talked to WVXU via Skype.

“People ask about health to their doctors but they are afraid of talking about drugs with doctors because they are feared to be judged. But people who take drugs have questions and they care about their health and they ask questions related to drugs and health. They ask about specifications of drugs, patterns of use. Questions like, ‘If I suffer from a terminal illness or if I am a diabetic or if I have asthma, what happens if I take the drug or a combination of drugs?’”

Dr. X says the advice he offers on the Dark Web is an extension of his NGO, Energy Control International. It accepts samples of drugs worldwide to see trends and toxicity. He says the Dark Web is a place to offer help and could be key to  fighting drug abuse.

There is one other reason to visit the dark web for legitimate purposes- to keep your personal information private and possibly buy back your stolen passwords. Hackers sell data on the dark web cheaply. In 2015 the average price of login credentials for video streaming services like Netflix reportedly was as little as 55 cents. Online bank login usernames and passwords were going for a few hundred dollars in 2015.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.