• Weird History

The Origin And History Of The Dark Web

Though you may know of the dark web - and its multiple levels of content, which span all levels of legality - you probably don't know where it came from or how it grew into the digital presence it is today. Many dark web facts are hidden on the dark web itself, which is notoriously inaccessible to those without the means or familiarity to navigate it.

Uninitiated folks might think the dark web sprang up only a few years ago, but it's existed since the beginning of the internet. The dark web has evolved over the years, and no one knows entirely what comprises it today, but most understand it's a home for all sorts of illicit information.

As news pundits throw out terms like "cryptocurrency" and "intellectual dark web" with increasing frequency, awareness of these terms has spread, but that awareness doesn't always lead to understanding. The dark web is a strange place, and exploring each corner only reveals doors to even more obscure areas of the internet.

  • Photo: Jackpukk / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Darknets Sprang Up Immediately After The Internet Began

    On October 29, 1969, a student at UCLA sent the first computer-to-computer electronic message. The system he used to transmit the message was called the ARPANET.

    ARPANET was the precursor to the modern internet. It didn't take much time for people to set up "darknets" - or unlisted, covert networks that used the ARPANET framework.

  • Photo: Rotbuche / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The First E-Commerce Transaction Was For Pot

    Not only did darknets spring up very soon after the invention of the internet, but they also helped pioneer some of the online uses we take for granted today. For example, the first online purchase wasn't a book or video game - it was drugs.

    Beginning in the early 1970s, students at Stanford co-opted ARPANET for drug deals. The operation was relatively small, but the students used the internet to keep their dealings secretive and hidden.

  • Photo: Pedroflores1 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Data Havens Originated In The Caribbean

    During the 1980s, people found storing illicit or sensitive data increasingly difficult. The internet remained open, making transparency hard to avoid. To get around it, users attempted to create "data havens" where sensitive information could be stored far away from the prying eyes of authorities. It wasn't enough to isolate the information digitally; many users separated their data physically as well.

    Many of these data havens existed on islands in the Caribbean, specifically Anguilla, and in many ways functioned identically to tax havens. Because the havens fell outside of any major country, different rules applied, and people could avoid certain laws.

  • Photo: Napster / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Better Compression Meant Illicit Peer-To-Peer File Sharing

    In the latter half of the 1990s, compression algorithms improved greatly, allowing increased peer-to-peer file sharing. Users could easily share MP3s and other music files back and forth without much hassle. A few major sites that hosted this type of file sharing stayed above-ground, like Napster and LimeWire, but they were in the minority.

    It was not permissible to steal music and give it to other people for free, so many of these services went unindexed on the dark web. Today, almost all of these services exist entirely on the dark web, to both avoid litigation and preserve anonymity.