Alex Winter: The Dark Net Isn’t What You Think. It’s Actually Key To Our Privacy (Transcript)

Alex Winter

Here is the full transcript of documentary filmmaker Alex Winter’s TEDx Talk: The Dark Net Isn’t What You Think. It’s Actually Key To Our Privacy at TEDxMidAtlantic conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: The Dark Net isn’t what you think. It’s actually key to our privacy by Alex Winter at TEDxMidAtlantic


So for most of my life I’ve been obsessed with the digital revolution. That may sound strange coming from an actor, director but actually I blame the Bill and Ted movies for my obsession with technology.

You see, one day in the late ‘80s, I woke up with my face on a cereal box. Yeah. When the first Bill and Ted opened, my life became permanently public. Grocery shopping had to be done in the middle of the night. Crowded subway was a no-go zone. And a teenage fan ran away from home, crossed the country by bus, and parked herself at my front door. Thankfully I was out of town.

Now don’t get me wrong. I was very grateful for the success of those movies. But like many young people thrust into the spotlight, I was unprepared for a life that suddenly lacked any degree of privacy and anonymity. And that’s when I discovered the Internet.

Specifically, the anonymous online communities that existed in the crude early days of the net before the existence of the modern web that we know today. Believe it or not here were thousands of people around the world, meeting in online news groups and chat rooms to discuss a wide range of interests and connect with each other. Many of us using anonymous usernames and even encrypted email. There had never been anything like this, and it blew my mind. I may have come to the anonymous internet for privacy but I stayed for the community — a vibrant network where I could say what I wanted and be myself. It was a very liberating experience, whether or not your face was on a cereal box.

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So I’ve since spent a lot of time investigating the evolution of online communities: who builds them? What motivates their creation and how these often-radical technologies are changing the world? And that led me to make a documentary called Deep Web.

Now this movie mostly examines the Silk Road which was an anonymous online marketplace and forum that existed in a hidden area of the internet and used Bitcoin, an unregulated digital currency.

Now the Silk Road sold many things, but mostly drugs, including illegal drugs. This is a heated subject and for the most part, the media covered it in a highly salacious manner. The headlines screamed about a shadowy Internet filled with guns and drugs and hitmen. The further I investigated it, the more I realized it was largely inaccurate.

You see what compelled me to spend several years immersed in the area of the Silk Road and the hidden Internet was a desire to discover what if anything they mean to the average citizen. And it turns out they mean a great deal.

So let’s start with the basics: What is this hidden Internet exactly?

Now the media coverage of the Deep Web usually describes it as a vast hidden area, 5000 times larger than the surface web and filled with criminals. But that is actually false. The Deep Web is not a place, is not hidden and actually harbors zero criminal activity. It simply accounts for the unindexed content online, the raw data that Google doesn’t know about and doesn’t care about. For example, your online banking data is not stored anywhere on Google and your company may have an internal network that you use to communicate — this exists in the Deep Web.

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