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The Dark Web: Alan Pearce @ TEDxBrighton (Transcript)

Alan Pearce at TEDxBrighton

Full transcript of journalist and author Alan Pearce’s TEDx Talk on The Dark Web at TEDxBrighton conference.

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Alan Pearce – Journalist and author

Hello. All right, deep web.

What is the deep web?

Actually, it is the hidden part of the Internet. I could go into more detail, no time, but let’s just say – but actually is as dull as dishwater, most of it – the hidden part of the Internet is the kind of place where if you want to be anonymous, you most certainly can, but, in many ways, we are looking at a parallel universe.

We are looking at an alternative Internet, a place where people communicate secretly and securely away from the prying eyes of governments.

At this level of the deep web, we are looking at a mirror image of the regular Internet, the surface web. You have got websites and bulletin boards, you’ve got clones of Twitter and Facebook, and all the rest of the things that you would normally expect from the Internet.

So, who is using this stuff?

Well, actually, all sorts of people: journalists and activists, aid workers and dissidents, whistle-blowers and free-speech advocates, criminals and spies, all sorts of people use deep web tools to be anonymous on the Internet.

How do they do that?

I will show you some of the things that they do, but I would like to propose that we all start to think about learning some of the secrets of the deep web, the black arts, if you will, to try and solve some of the problems of the Internet today.

And the way I see it, the Internet is facing three main threats.

Threat #1: The NSA Factor

Threat number one, you might call it ‘the NSA phantom.’ We have all seen and read the Edward Snowden’s revelations. We all know we’ve been monitored all of the time. This, ultimately, is going to have a terrible effect on the Internet, and it might get to the point where people are frightened to speak openly, rather like North Korea or the old East Germany, where the phones were tapped, or people were followed in the street, or their mail was intercepted.

Here is a fun thing you can try at home: next time you send an e-mail to your mom, say, include the words ‘bomb,’ ‘kill,’ ‘Obama,’ ‘Thursday,’ and let’s see how long it takes them to come and get you and your mom.

You can find my e-mail address, please get in touch because I’d like to know what happens. Did the SWAT team come and kick your door down? Did you find yourself on an airline no-fly list? Or did nothing happen? Or so you think.

Because I actually think by monitoring us, the public at large, they are missing the point, they are barking up the wrong tree, they are looking in the wrong place. Because no terrorist worth their salt is going to give anything away in an e-mail or on the phone.

Osama Bin Laden did not have a Facebook page and he never tweeted his friends. So, you have to ask, why they are monitoring us all? I think they do it simply because they can.

Every government would want to know what its people are saying and thinking. After all, information is power. So, bear that in mind next time there is a terrorist event, like the appalling murder in Woolwich, South London, last year of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

As quick as a flash, the government used that as an opportunity to say: “We need to monitor the public at large.” “We need more monitoring.”

But, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think there was any evidence to suggest that the perpetrators of this appalling crime actually discussed their intentions on e-mail, or Facebook, or Twitter. And when it comes down to it, the bad guys have a wealth of possibilities when they want to communicate secretly.

One thing a lot of people do, they communicate inside their fantasy worlds: places like ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Second life’ which in a sense makes them deep web.

Now, it’s very easy to have a private conversation with someone like in ‘Second life.’ All you have to do is slide up to somebody on a park bench there and have a nice, quiet conversation.

How does anybody know you are doing this? Probably they don’t. And for all anybody knows, the Islamic State or ISIS may be lurking down in ‘My little pony’ world.

“Hi, Applejack, what are you up to today?”

“Hiya! I’m really busy. I’m going to kill the President with a big bomb at four o’clock at the Convention Center.”

Snowden does tell us they can see inside these things, inside these secret fantasy worlds, but are they really monitoring the conversations of 7-year-old girls? And even if they are, so what? You can talk in code, you don’t have to say ‘President,’ you could say ‘big cheese’ or whatever.

How would they know? Because they don’t. So I say that by monitoring us all, they are wasting their time.

And what are we actually achieving by doing all this?

We are destroying the freedom that the Internet originally promised. So that’s threat number one.

Threat #2: Commercialization

Threat number two: rampant commercialization. If we are not careful, we are heading towards a two-tiered Internet, a nice, superfast Internet for those who can pay, and a kind of rubbishy one for those who can’t, and it is called “the end of net neutrality.”

Once upon a time, there were hundreds of small oil companies drilling for oil, and then, in time, they all got taken over by the big boys. And now, the oil business is in the hands of a few ultrapowerful corporations.

And if we are not careful, this is the way the Internet’s going. Instead of an information superhighway we are going to be looking at an expensive toll road, we are going to be looking at the pay-TV model.

And even if you think something’s free, it invariably isn’t. And it’s true when they say: “If you are not paying, you are the product.” A quick example would be you got a Gmail account a nice, free e-mail account – thank you very much – but the thing is they are combing for everything you send and receive, looking for keywords so they can bombard you with advertising.

Sometimes, this is very helpful, I guess. You may e-mail a friend and say: “I’ll meet you in Venice,” and the next thing you know, you’ve been bombarded with ads for cheap flights to Venice, and hotels, and all the rest of it.

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