Innovation drives profit. Without it, companies stagnate and collapse in on themselves. It’s not enough to simply adapt to changing business climates anymore, you need to be leading the way.
The search for profit is clearly a major driving force behind innovation, but historically the forces that have really pushed technology forward have been the basest human urges. War, pornography, and illegal activity - violence, sex, and drugs - are responsible for some of the leaps that have got us where we are today.
The Internet is a good example. Pornography may not have been the reason that the internet was created, but it was the primary driving force behind its growth from small networks used by the military and academics, to the mass market. The adult film industry led the way in video streaming, credit card transactions in e-commerce, and live chat. It showed the world that consumers were willing to shop online, and use credit cards to make purchases, and other industries were able to follow.
Pornography was popular before the Internet came along, and has been the driving force behind the popularization of almost every visual medium, from photographs to VHS. One of the main benefits of the Internet is that it provides a far greater degree of anonymity than other viewing experiences though, something of particular interest to users who don’t want people to think they’re perverts. At least, the Internet provides a more dignified kind of anonymity compared to walking into a sex shop in a rain mac and low brimmed hat.
Working around consumer’s desire for anonymity on the Internet has, and will continue, to greatly shape customer experience. The Dark Net appears to many a terrifying consequence of the internet age, providing a marketplace for drugs and guns where all manner of nefarious individuals can sell their criminal services under the cloak of anonymity. It has grown into an immense information-sharing tool that is making it easier for criminals to do their job more thoroughly, and it has provided a better place for consumers, with open competition doing what it does in most other industries, driving down prices and increasing the quality of the goods.
Nicolas Christin of Carnegie Mellon University, an expert on the Dark Net, estimates that there are 9,300 vendors currently selling their wares outside the clear net. Running and maintaining such a vast market place under the conditions imposed upon it by its illegal status and need for anonymity is an incredible feat that should be appreciated, if not admired. The Dark Net is a hub of innovation from pure necessity. While legitimate companies that fail to innovate may lose competitive edge, vendors on the dark web can lose their freedom, and platforms like Silk Road have to constantly adapt to ensure that sales can take place while avoiding police detection. Indeed, they have to find ways to ensure that deals take place at all, with criminals a notoriously untrustworthy bunch. Multi-signature escrow payments were created to deal with the problem of drug dealers taking a customers bitcoin and then not sending the drugs. Under this system, upon purchase of item the customer sends a bitcoin to a neutral third party digital wallet. The vendor then sends the product. Upon delivery, two of the three people engaged in the transaction - vendor, buyer, and site administrator - have to input a unique digital signature and the bitcoin is released to the vendor.
These innovations may not seem important to mainstream companies at the moment, but the Internet is changing. Fear over data privacy is growing as a result of revelations about the NSA, along with data theft and widespread fraud - often, ironically, enabled by the Dark Web - is set to cause a revolution in how the web works, with consumers increasingly looking for anonymity. Companies must look at how Dark Net platforms are achieving this, or they risk falling out of step with a public that seeks a degree of privacy that they do not provide.