At one time, the US was over 90% wilderness. Few dared to go into this unknown and hostile land. Only the bravest ventured there. And who were these brave people? Businessmen. That’s right. Businessmen. History calls them fur traders, but this obscures the fact that these men were the employees of two large companies, The Hudson’s Bay Company from Great Britain and the Northwest Company from the US. But the fact that these risk takers were businessmen doesn’t surprise me in the least. Businessmen and women have always been the first to enter the frontiers. When I worked in Japan, my students were businesspeople being sent to, at that time, unknown regions such as India, communist Central and Eastern Europe, and Burma. When I worked for LG in South Korea, they had established clothing factories in North Korea. And it is widely known that the Chinese were the first to take Africa seriously.
Geographical frontiers may have largely vanished, but the cyber wilderness still beckons. The deep web is the new wilderness. If there is to be a paradigm shift for businesses, it will occur there. But how does one even begin to work in this unknown land? Well, you wouldn’t enter any wilderness area without a guide. The Japanese always sent in trading companies to establish posts in new countries and set up the infrastructure for the settlers that followed them. Thus, the first indication that business is gaining interest in the deep web will be the appearance of such guides. Not surprisingly, they are slowly emerging from the depths.
In my last post, I suggested that companies keep an eye on activities in the deep web. Now, there is a site that will do that for you…and possibly more. BrightPlanet gives users the following background information:
“For the past 8 years, we have been finding and harvesting Big Data on the Deep Web for U.S. Intelligence Agencies. Today, this same suite of powerful tools and services is available to anyone who is looking for the competitive advantage of Deep Web Intelligence. Whether you are involved in research, competitive positioning, protecting intellectual property—or are simply out to catch the bad guys.”
Since, among other services, they will “tap directly into Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn content” their searches may occasionally fall into gray areas. Nonetheless, they are providing a useful portal into the deep web.
Other potential contacts maintain both deep and surface web sites and in so doing have positioned themselves as potential intermediaries between the two realms. Sites such as Manchurian Technology Services (not always up) seem ready to help any companies thinking of doing some selling on the deep web. True, now, they are probably thinking in terms of helping illegitimate businesses set up shop, but if you read about their services you can see that they have a viable business plan that someday may attract more legitimate customers.
We’ll walk you through keeping yourself, your staff, and your operations secure and anonymous. If you’re brand new to operating anonymously and have no technical staff, we can function as your ‘IT department’ and provide everything you need. Whether you have time-critical problems with an existing system or are just looking for best practice information specific to your requirements, we have the experience and know-how to make your enterprise first in its class.
Need a completely customized storefront, communications platform, or company homepage? We’ll make that happen.”
Another deep web hosting service will provide the following:
“• Integrated Bitcoin Wallet
• Message Center for easy communication with customers
• Easy tracking of orders, users have to pay before order gets submitted
• Intelligent inventory management
• Support for multiple categories
• You may use HTML to make your product descriptions more unique • Secure and fast server with daily backups
• Your own .onion domain with 6 characters at the beginning which you can choose (example: 123456xxxxxxxxxx.onion)
• Choose between many free design templates or buy your own custom design template
• Free custom logo for every store
• Sub-Forum in the TorShops Forums for user feedback and reviews”
A pretty good deal for $100. But there’s a hitch with these deep web hosting services. Most (but not all) want a piece of the action. The above site takes 5-6% but this is negotiable. My guess is that a legitimate business that wanted to do business with them could negotiate terms that would be agreeable to both parties. But be careful. Check out any service’s legitimacy on bulletin boards and forums first. Here be monsters.
Sure, I know what you’re asking. What legitimate company would want to be anonymous? To answer this question, I need to change direction a bit. Last year, I was asked to consult with a group of Polish businesspeople. They had their backs to the wall. With Poland having Europe’s second highest VAT at 23%, with a huge national health plan, largely supported by businesses, and with multi layers of costly regulations from local to EU level, many had seen their partners’ businesses fail. Since unemployment was 25% in some areas of Poland, the government looked to small and medium-sized businesses to pick up the financial slack; in other words, pay more taxes. (I recently interviewed one of these businessmen and he calculated his tax burden at over 70%.) These were desperate people. As a last resort, they had decided to band together to fight for survival and needed some ideas. The only idea they seemed to have was to set up a kind of barter system which would enable them to avoid some taxes. They were afraid to use cash because they thought that the government would question all bank activities.
My first suggestion was that they consider using bitcoins since bartering is just too impractical. However, the more I explained what bitcoins were, the more confused and suspicious they became. Invisible currency? Untraceable? (This was all before bitcoins became generally known.) In any event, these businesspeople pointed out something that I see as inevitable. When a small or medium business finds its back to the wall, they are willing to try almost anything to survive, and one of those things will be to use the deep web to avoid excess taxation. The sites I listed above seem to provide a ready vehicle for this. The only obstacle that stops most businesses from already doing this is their complete lack of knowledge about the deep web. One thing I’ve noticed after working with businesspeople around the world for many years is that they may be good at managing business, but they are not up to speed on most IT matters. (I can’t make any firm statements but my guess is that many IT departments must be frustrated trying to explain technological issues to management.) Understanding the terrain is the first hurdle that must be overcome before we see transactions between companies being carried out in the deep web, even though, according to a Forbes magazine article, insider trading is already going on there. How long will it be before buying and selling between business partners take place there? Maybe it already is taking place but, if this region is truly anonymous, I, or no one else, would ever know.
Products sold on the surface web that are legal are still considered as illegal when sold on the deep web. Yes, such products do exist. Olive oil, for example, can be bought at a good price on the deep web. What makes it illegal is that it has not been properly regulated and the transactions associated with its sale cannot be traced for tax purposes. The only protection that buyers get is that of endorsements from satisfied customers. Would you, as a buyer, be willing to accept endorsements over government regulations? Do you need a government agency telling you what is or is not good for you? Some will say that they need regulations while others may put the burden on the buyer. For those with more libertarian views of the marketplace, the deep web holds a deep attraction. Legitimate businesses may be drawn to it, but it forces them to rethink all they know about marketing.
I can only speculate at this point. During times of economic stress, businesses may look to the deep web for help. They will need middlemen. They will need someone to set them up and hide their identity. They will need to work with another name for their business that differs from their surface name, then, they could even advertise on the surface for customers to buy on the deep web, and, with the money they save on taxes, they could offer customers the best prices found anywhere. However, customers do not want to go through the problems that are associated with buying anonymously in bitcoins on the deep web. That is why these middlemen will have to set up an interface between the surface customer and the deep web business that looks, for all the world, like a normal web site. Buying must be allowed with credit cards and normal currency. Later, or automatically, the currency would be converted to bitcoins and put into the seller’s bitcoin wallet to enhance anonymity when the time comes for the seller to convert his own bitcoins to a surface currency. The customer may never even realize he or she was dealing with a deep web seller and, therefore, could not be accused of doing anything illegal. Shipping would have to follow deep web reshipping protocols to hide the sender’s actual address.
I cannot say when or even if this will ever happen, I can only point out that if economic and political conditions are right, such an exploitation of the deep web could develop at an exponential rate. Governments realize this eventuality but would not have the resources to deal with a sudden, mass migration into the deep web. How will you know the migration to the wilderness has begun if there is no trail to follow? Watch the government and see what regulations concerning deep web businesses that they are considering. This will mean that they know something that you don’t. Currently, governments are more concerned with serious crimes, such as human trafficking, than business activity in the deep web. For the moment, anyway, the deep web is still a cyber wilderness.