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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

If Liran Sorani has his way, the dark web — a hidden internet badlands populated by hackers, drug runners, gun traffickers, pornographers and human part merchants — will one day also be a haven for ordinary folk seeking privacy away from Facebook.

Why it matters: Facebook is under intense pressure in the U.S. and Europe for its role in the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and its general failure to safeguard user data. The dark web is a possible alternative.

  • Facebook's flaws have energized privacy advocates, libertarians and others to seek out another, decentralized and encrypted cyberspace where no one is selling their data or deciding what they can and cannot say.
  • A combination of the dark web and blockchain could provide that place.
  • It would be a new social network that does not accumulate and husband people's data.

What's going on: When most people want to use the Internet, they go on Google, Facebook, or — if they are in China — Baidu or WeChat. But it's different if you are surfing for tools to, say, unleash a bot attack and reap some ransomeware profit.

  • For that, you need to go on the dark web, an entirely different network within the deep web — the 96% of the internet from which Google and every other traditional browser are locked out.
  • There, you hire a good hacker, professionals who hide under assumed names to elude authorities, says Sorani, cyber manager at Webhose, a Israeli data mining firm.
  • To get there, you don't use Google, but instead download software like Tor or I2P. Then you enter at your own — considerable — risk.

The dark web is full of people just seeking anonymity, often from dangerous regimes, but it's also a place where many take advantage of that anonymity to commit crime. It can be as exceedingly treacherous and spooky as it sounds — the unsuspecting can be ambushed in super-unpleasant ways.

That's why the idea of it becoming a safe ground for Facebook refugees is counter-intuitive: if you are lulled into the wrong place, you could end up in a cyber attack, or subject to much more sophisticated, unpoliced scams than are seen on the public internet, with no recourse since everything is so shadowy.

But Sorani predicts blockchain will change all that. He suggests it will evolve into an easy tool accessed through a mobile app or browser and provide a "gateway that will seamlessly connect you to the (dark) network." Sorani tells Axios:

"Facebook for me is like a nation. It has a policy. They define the policy. But with blockchain, nobody can shut it down. It belongs to the community. It will be free of censorship."
— Sorani

The general idea isn't new: Minds, an alternative social media platform, said earlier this year that it was weaving blockchain into its program, and Zeronet has said the same. In China, too, the gaming giant NetEase has released a beta of Planet, its own blockchain social media app.

Bottom line: "To access it today," says Sorani, "you need to install it and understand the hazards. That's why people are not using it by now. But when there will be sense in it —
when people decide, 'I want my private life back' — there is a chance this will go to the masses."

Go deeper

2 hours ago - Health

Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific COVID vaccine

A health worker in Palestine preparing a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine on Jan. 24. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Tuesday that they have started clinical trials for a reformulated vaccine to protect against the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Why it matters: The rise of the Omicron variant has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines.

Retail stock traders power stunning comeback after deep selloff

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Stocks staged a Patrick Mahomes-esque comeback Monday, after plunging for the first few hours of trading.

Why it matters: The remarkable recovery suggests that retail traders who upended markets over the last year — most notably during the GameStop bonanza that occurred almost exactly a year ago — continue to be powerful influence in the markets.

America can't quit polarizing politicians

Expand chart
Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

New data finds that the nation's most polarizing politicians are often the ones that garner the most attention online.

Why it matters: Online engagement helps politicians build a bigger national profile and more fundraising power, incentivizing them be more outrageous, more polarizing and more divisive.