You may have heard that the Silk Road, a massive e-commerce narcotics website, was shut down by the FBI today and that its owner, known until this point as the “Dread Pirate Roberts” (a reference to the infamous, ruthless, somewhat-mythical character in The Princess Bride, revealed at some point to be several people succeeding one another), turned out to be a 29-year-old University of Texas graduate named Ross William Ulbricht. He’s been charged with narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering and using the website to arrange the alleged assassination of a user who planned to extort him. Back to The Princess Bride reference, they believe the nickname was chosen because the ownership of the website had been willed from one person to the next over the course of its existence, meaning the manhunt is not over.
We’re rapidly beginning to see a new wave of sophisticated organized crime carried out digitally. What once required manpower can now be done from behind a keyboard.
And if you ever wondered why some people are so against Bitcoin, the Silk Road and similar operations are largely to blame. Need evidence? Bitcoin shares have fallen 15% in the past few hours following the takedown.
Digital currency, digital crime, it’s all so surreal.
At the recent XOXO conference in Portland, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams discussed what he’s learned about the Internet in the past 20 years. One of the things he said is that “It’s not a utopian world. It’s essentially like a lot of other major technological revolutions that have taken place in the history of the world. Agriculture made life better. It not only got people fed, it freed them up to do many more things — to create art and invent things.” I agree, but it also caused wars and increased economic inequality in many parts of the world. I’d add that the Internet really serves as a capabilities accelerator and a huge magnifying glass. It magnifies the good in people, and the bad. For all the good we see online, we’ve been seeing a lot of bad recently, with the Silk Road, the Syrian Electronic Army and the total loss of privacy.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about this.