More than just the currency of digital vice
Dale doesn’t exactly look like an international crypto-criminal. He’s soft-spoken, baby-faced, and a senior at an Ivy League college. But every couple of weeks the political science major logs onto the Silk Road, an online black market that has been described as an “amazon.com of drugs” to buy wholesale quantities of “molly” (also known as MDMA, a particularly “pure” form of ecstasy), LSD and magic mushrooms. Some of these will be for his personal use, and the rest he’ll flog to less tech-savvy classmates at a mark-up of up to 300%. On a good weekend, he can net a profit of around $2,500. It’s a more lucrative sideline than waiting tables.
While Dale prices his party favours in dollars, he pays for them the only way you can pay for anything on the Silk Road: by using Bitcoins, an untraceable digital currency founded in 2008 by the pseudonymous “Satoshi Nakomoto”. Despite persistent efforts to uncover his identity, little is known about Nakamoto: he’s the Banksy of the internet. Or, rather, he was. Nakomoto disappeared without a trace in 2011, after telling a developer “he’d moved on to other things”. Bitcoin itself, however, shows no signs of vanishing: in the past two months it more than doubled its value against the dollar and after reaching an all-time high last Wednesday, it has been trading at above $32 a share.