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Bitcoin Is Falling Out of Favor on the Dark Web

比特币在暗网上失宠了



Steep transaction fees and wild price fluctuations have made the cryptocurrency harder to use in the illicit markets that originally made it famous.

高昂的交易费用和剧烈的价格波动使得比特币这一加密货币在黑市更加难以使用,而这也曾是它一举成名的原因。

Of all of bitcoin’s uses—as a currency, a payment system, an investment, a commodity, a technology, a remittance network, a market hedge—perhaps its most notorious is as a facilitator of online drug transactions. For years now, the cryptocurrency has allowed anonymous purchasers to pay anonymous vendors on eBay-like markets, avoiding the use of the formal financial system and thus the easy intervention of the federal authorities.

在比特币的所有用途中——如货币、支付系统、投资、商品、技术、汇款、市场对冲——或许最臭名昭著的是作为在线毒品交易的推动者。多年来,这种加密货币允许匿名买家在类似ebay这样的市场上支付给匿名卖家,避免使用正式的金融系统,从而方便联邦政府的干预。

“Making small talk with your pot dealer sucks. Buying cocaine can get you shot. What if you could buy and sell drugs online like books or light bulbs? Now you can: Welcome to Silk Road,” the journalist Adrian Chen wrote in?an exposé?for Gawker on the now-defunct market, back in 2011. At the time, Chen called it “the most complete implementation of the bitcoin vision” of freewheeling, anarcho-libertarian anonymity.

“和大麻贩子闲聊很糟糕、危险,购买可卡因更可能会让你被枪毙。如果你可以像购买书籍或灯泡一样在网上买卖毒品呢?现在就可以:欢迎来到丝路(购物网站)”记者阿德里安·陈(Adrian Chen)在2011年为Gawker网撰写的一篇关于现已停业市场的文章中指出了这些问题。当时,阿德里安·陈称其为“比特币愿景中最完美的实施”,这是一种随心所欲、无政府自由主义、匿名化的状态。

Seven years later, though, problems with using bitcoin on the dark web—a kind of?mirror internet?that uses encryption to ensure its participants’ privacy and features websites that are not accessible?from standard browsers—have piled up. Purchasers and vendors are cancelling orders, losing money, and fleeing to other forms of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin remains in wide use for drugs and other illegal goods, but the shadowy markets that made it famous, and infamous, are turning on it.

然而,七年后,在暗网上使用比特币的问题——一种使用加密技术来确保参与者隐私的互联网,以及那些无法用标准浏览器访问的网站——已经堆积如山。买家和卖家都在取消订单,亏钱,并转向其他形式的加密货币。比特币仍然广泛用于毒品和其他非法商品,但是那些让它声名鹊起同时又臭名昭著的地下市场,还是正在开启它。

The first issue lies in the extreme volatility of the price of bitcoin. The cryptocurrency has, since its?very earliest days, been a highly unstable one, its price surging and collapsing much like that of a penny stock. Even so, the past year has proven unusually volatile, with dramatic day-to-day and even?minute-to-minute?swings and plunges. Investors crowding into the cryptocurrency—including those putting bitcoin on?their credit cards, or taking out equity loans on their houses to buy it—and regulatory interest from governments around the world have helped to?drive those fluctuations. And the currency’s short-term volatility has been matched by some longer-term volatility too: The currency’s value?surged 1,300 percent?last year, and it has fallen by more than half of late.

第一个问题在于比特币的价格波动十分剧烈,这种加密货币自早期诞生以来就一直是极不稳定的,它的价格暴涨暴跌,就像那些低价股一样。即便如此,过去一年的波动仍然异常剧烈,每一天,甚至每分钟都有剧烈波动。涌入比特币的投资者——包括那些把比特币放在信用卡上的人,或者抵押房子拿贷款来购买比特币的人——来自世界各国政府的监管利益帮助推动了这些价格波动。货币的短期波动也与一些较长期的波动相匹配:去年货币的价值飙升了1300%,但它的跌幅也已经超过了一半。

For Wall Street–type investors seeking to buy and hold bitcoin or risk-happy prospectors looking to make a quick buck, such price swings are generally a feature, not a bug. Nor are they problematic for many the many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs interested in the blockchain technology underpinning the currency. But this kind of volatility is a headache for participants in marketplaces with transactions denominated in bitcoin. That means the darknet markets, which have continued to crop up and collapse since the federal authorities?seizedSilk Road in 2013.

对于华尔街类型的投资者来说,他们想要购买并持有比特币,还有对于那些想要快速赚钱的风险投资者来说,这样的价格波动通常是比特币的一种特色,而并非缺陷。许多硅谷企业家对于依赖区块链技术的基础货币十分感兴趣,这对于他们来说也不是什么问题,但这种波动对于比特币交易市场的参与者来说是一件十分令人头痛的事,这意味着暗网市场自2013年联邦政府接管丝路以来,一直在不断地发生错误和崩溃。

On those markets, the price of drugs and other illicit and licit goods are fundamentally pegged to dollars or euros, not bitcoin. Buyers think in terms of traditional currencies, in other words: An eighth of an ounce of marijuana is worth $25, not a minuscule fraction of a bitcoin. And vendors think in the same terms, often purchasing wholesale goods with dollars or other government-issued currencies, or seeking to sell their wares for cash in person. As such, “the price of a bitcoin does not matter,” Nicolas Christin, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on the darknet markets, told me. “But that it is stable matters.”

在这些市场上,毒品和其他非法、合法商品的价格基本与美元或欧元挂钩,而非比特币。买家在市场上是用传统货币来交易的,换句话说:1/8盎司的大麻价值25美元,而不是比特币去换算。销售商也是用同样的方式来进行交易,通常以美元或其他政府发行的货币来批发商品,或以个人付现金的方式出售他们的商品。因此,卡内基梅隆大学的计算机科学家、暗网市场专家尼古拉斯克里斯廷告诉我“比特币的价格并不是重点,它的稳定性才是问题关键。”

To understand why, it helps to know a bit more about the mechanics of buying drugs on the dark web. A purchaser buys bitcoin, reviews vendors’ offers on a marketplace, and then pays for his goods. His money generally goes into escrow before it is released to his vendor. This introduces a number of financial choke points and transaction delays: between when the purchaser procures bitcoin and makes a purchase, when the vendor receives the order and receives payment from escrow, and when the vendor cashes out from the marketplace. Those are all moments when bitcoin’s volatility becomes problematic. For vendors, price drops while payments are in escrow might wipe out all the profits from a sale, for instance.

要理解这一点,需要了解一下在暗网上购买毒品的流程。买家首先购买比特币,查看商家的出价,然后用比特币支付他的商品。在钱款打到卖家账户之前,这些钱会先放到第三方机构托管。这就造成了金融监管和交易延迟的问题:买家购买了比特币并进行交易,卖家接受订单并同意第三方支付的钱款,可是当卖家要从市场中取出现金的时候,这些时间点都是比特币的波动不确定的时刻。对于卖家来说,比特币的价格下降,则会抵消掉他们暂存在第三方机构钱款的利润。

Complaints about these kinds of scenarios are rife in popular forums where buyers and vendors chat online, including on Reddit. “Seems I hear Vendors are sitting on the sidelines. If payment is in [bitcoin and] then [the] price falls all their work is for nigh,”?one user?recently posted, worrying that fewer vendors were selling given the market dynamics at work. Another?complained, “Seriously?! I purchased coins this morning at like $675 and within 1.5 hours it dropped down to $625.”

在各类买家和卖家用以在网上聊天的知名论坛——包括Reddit——上,人们普遍在抱怨这种情况。“看起来这些卖家实在是无能为力,如果买家用比特币支付,然后比特币价格下跌,那么所有的工作的白费了”这是一名用户最近发帖的内容。他担心,鉴于市场的状态,越来越少的卖家会在市场上进行销售。另一个则抱怨“真的吗? !今天早上我花了675美元买了一枚硬币,然后在1.5小时内,它就降到了625美元。”

Of course, licit markets have the exact same vulnerability to swings in the price of bitcoin. But those markets—with their deep-pocketed investors and ties to the formal financial system—have come up with ways to avoid them. “Merchants who want to avoid volatility will still accept bitcoin or cryptocurrency, and can use a service provider that automatically converts it,” Jerry Brito, the executive director of Coin Center, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization for cryptocurrencies, told me. “That service provider accepts bitcoin on their behalf, automatically converts it, and deposits dollars into the merchant’s account. That way they never face the volatility.”

当然,合法市场也同样容易受到比特币价格波动的影响,但这些市场——有财力雄厚的投资者和正规的金融体系——已经找到了规避风险的方法。“商家虽然想要避免货币波动,但仍会接受比特币或加密货币来支付,并且让服务提供商来进行货币自动转换” 。 Coin Center(加密数字货币的非营利研究和宣传中心)的执行董事杰里布里托告诉我“这个服务商接受比特币,并且能自动转换,将美元存入商家的账户,这样商家就不会面对比特币剧烈的波动。”

But such businesses want nothing to do with illegal markets, meaning that marketplaces, vendors, and buyers have few if any ways to hedge. Some drug dealers urge their customers to “finalize early,” letting their payments out of escrow before they receive their goods. And some marketplaces have built in their own mechanisms to help manage volatility. Indeed, the original Silk Road provided a kind of insurance system against volatile cryptocurrency prices. “Ross Ulbricht was a very smart young man who got into a line of work he should not have been involved in,” said Christin, referring to the creator of Silk Road, who was arrested in 2013 and is now serving a life sentence. “He had very clever ideas, like this hedging system that exists in banks.” But other markets do not have the technological wherewithal to do so, or the willingness to absorb any volatility risk from their customers and vendors. As a result, many vendors cancel orders, or requests that their buyers cancel orders, to manage the swings.

但这些企业不希望与非法市场有任何关系,这意味着市场、销售商和买家几乎没有办法对冲。一些毒贩提醒他们的顾客“提前完成交易”,在收到货物之前就付完款。某些市场已经建立了一套自己的机制来帮助控制货币的波动性,实际上,早期丝路网站针对不稳定的加密货币价格提供了一系列的保险制度。克里斯汀说,“罗斯·乌布里希特是一个非常聪明的年轻人,他从事了一项他不应该参与的工作”,他指的是丝路的缔造者,他于2013年被捕,现在正服无期徒刑。“他非常聪明有想法,就像银行里的对冲系统一样”。但其他市场没有这样的技术资金,也没有愿意承担任何波动风险的买家和商家。因此,许多商家取消订单,或要求买家取消订单,以控制波动的风险。

It is worth noting that volatility has proven less of a problem when the price of bitcoin was shooting up, as buyers and vendors holding bitcoin found their currency worth more and more. (Indeed, in forum posts, some vendors note that they have made more money holding bitcoin than selling drugs.) But a crash in the price of bitcoin gives vendors far less of an incentive to do business on the darknet markets. “Volatility upwards is, of course, largely a good thing for [the darknet markets], as they produce a wealth effect,” wrote Gwern Branwen, a cryptocurrency researcher who?goes by a pseudonym, in an email. Branwen added, “The really bad thing is when prices crash. This sets up an ugly dynamic for sellers: typically you still have to pay your expenses and your supplier in a fiat, so do you continue shipping out orders pre-paid with bitcoins which are now worth a lot less and may well incur a loss?” ?

值得注意的是,当比特币价格飙升,买家和卖家发现手中持有的比特币的价值越来越高时,波动性就不是个问题。(事实上,在论坛帖子中,一些卖家指出,他们持有比特币赚的钱比卖毒品的钱要多) 。但是,比特币价格暴跌时,让卖家在黑市上做生意的意愿大大降低。加密货币研究员格温·布兰文用笔名回复邮件称“波动性上升当然对(暗网市场)来说是一件好事,因为它们产生了财富效应”。他接着补充,“真正糟糕的是价格崩盘,这让卖家很难做:一般情况下,你仍然需要给商家支付费用,在价值更低,甚至很可能会导致损失的时候,你是否继续用比特币支付预付款呢?”

The second reason bitcoin is falling out of favor on the dark web has to do with the sudden increase in the cost of transacting in bitcoin. Here, again, it helps to get into the technical details for a moment. All bitcoin transactions are kept in a decentralized and public ledger. When someone makes a transaction with bitcoin, miners in the network solve cryptographic puzzles to verify and log it—and get paid a small fee in bitcoin to do so. That has given the cryptocurrency ascaling problem: As demand for transactions has gone up, the price to transact has gone up. Indeed, the price of a bitcoin transaction recently?spiked as high?as $55.

比特币在暗网中失宠的第二个原因与比特币交易成本的突然增加有关。在此,说明一下技术细节,所有比特币的交易都被保留在一个分散和公共的账目上,当有人用比特币进行交易时,网络矿工们破解密码用以验证和记录信息——并获得一笔小额比特币的费用。这给加密货币的收费带来问题:随着对交易需求的上升,交易价格也随之上升。事实上,比特币交易的价格最近飙升到55美元了。

That might not be a problem for an investor. But for someone who’s just looking for some weed? “If you look at the average transaction on cryptomarkets, half of transactions are something like $30 or $50,” said David Décary-Hétu, a professor of criminology at the Université de Montréal. “It makes no sense to pay a commission of $35 for $50 of drugs.” Such transaction fees become especially problematic for anyone trying to make many smaller bitcoin transactions in order to avoid the attention of the authorities—such as drug dealers. ?

这对投资者来说不是问题,但是对于一个正在寻找毒品的人来说呢?蒙特利尔大学的犯罪学教授大卫?德-赫图表示:“你看一下加密货币市场的平均交易,大约一半的交易是30美元或50美元,花35美元购买50美元的毒品是毫无意义的”。对于任何想要进行小额比特币交易的人来说,这个交易费都是一个问题,因为他们想要避开官方的注意——比如毒贩。

Bitcoin’s fees and transaction delays have also pushed darknet market participants away from the cryptocurrency. “Which markets would YOU recommend, now that the bitcoin literally became unusable in low amounts?” one Reddit?forum poster?asked. “How should one adapt to this? The fees got enormous, the sites I use to buy [bitcoin] set their minimum amount you can buy up to 500.” Another commenter stepped in to advise the user, recommending a rival cryptocurrency: “Monero appears to be the way forward, at least for now: as you said, bitcoin is currently unusable for smaller transactions.”

比特币的费用和交易延迟也让这些暗网消费者远离了加密货币。Reddit论坛一个帖子问道“你会推荐哪个市场?现在,比特币实际上已经无法使用了”。“我们该如何适应这种情况呢?比特币的交易费是巨大,我用来购买比特币的网站设置了最低购买金额,你最多可以购买500欧元。”另一位评论者回帖向用户建议,推荐竞争对手的加密货币:“门罗币似乎是以后的发展方向,至少现在是这样,正如你所说,比特币目前对较小的交易无法使用。”

Another posting reads: “I think [it is] officially time to step away from [bitcoin], at least for the time being. Went to do a direct deal today with a vendor, realized my $250 purchase would end up costing me $315 or so with fees and would still take probably 24 hours to get to him,” a Reddit?user wrote. “As of this morning the lowest electrum fee was approx $32 to send coin.... and people reporting at the highest level still not having coin move 12-16 hours later.”

另一篇帖子写道:“我认为(现在)是时候远离比特币了,至少目前是这样。”一位Reddit用户的帖子中写道:“今天,我和一个卖家进行了直接销售,最终的250美元的价格购买。否则,用比特币交易的话,含手续费大约需要花315美元,而且可能还需要24小时才能到达他的手中”。帖子中说“今天早上银金矿费用最低是32美元左右兑换比特币....而在12-16小时后比特币依然没有达到峰值。

A third issue has to do with anonymity—or really, a lack of it—as law-enforcement and regulatory agencies have become more interested in and sophisticated about monitoring cryptocurrencies. Though bitcoin initially promised completely anonymous transactions, the public nature of the blockchain system in fact has always meant that savvy observers could amass huge amounts of information on bitcoin users, identifying the addresses of popular darknet markets and making money-laundering more onerous. “It’s pretty well established at this point that bitcoin is not anonymous, and it is traceable,” said Sarah Meiklejohn, a cryptography expert at University College London. “If you are buying drugs, using bitcoin is not the best bet.”

第三个问题与匿名有关——或者说,缺乏监管——因为执法部门和监管机构对监管加密货币越来越感兴趣,也越来越富有经验。尽管比特币最初承诺完全匿名交易,但区块链系统的共享本质实际上意味着,懂行的人可以积累大量比特币用户的信息,鉴别当下流行的暗网市场网址,并让洗钱变得更加麻烦。伦敦大学学院的密码学专家萨拉 米尔克约翰说 “在这一点上,比特币已经非常成熟,比特币不是匿名的,它是可以追踪的。如果你正在购买毒品,使用比特币不是最好的选择。”

Other coins offer?more privacy, and people who use darknet markets are moving to options like Ether and Monero. “Alex Cazes is dead because he believed bitcoin mixers obfuscated his money trail,” one forum poster said, referring to the founder of the now-defunct market AlphaBay and “mixers” that would supposedly hide his illicit bitcoin transactions. “My advice. Convert your bitcoins into Monero.” Another?argued: “While many of us have benefited from the surge in BTC price, it’s time we left it in the past and move on to something safer and more efficient. The wave starts with getting vendors and markets on board. While making an order I urge you to ask your vendor if they have considered switching to Monero (or alternative). If more customers want to pay with Monero, vendors and markets will want to switch to where customers have money.”

其他货币提供了更多的隐私,暗网市场的人们也正在转向选择像以太币和门罗币这样的货币。“亚历克斯?卡泽斯已经垮掉了,因为他坚信比特币混合器,从而破坏了他的资金链,我的建议是把你的比特币兑换成门罗币”。一位论坛发帖人说,他指的是现已不存在的暗网市场AlphaBay和暗网混合器的创始人,这个人可能会隐藏他的非法比特币交易。另一个回帖人则认为:“虽然我们中的许多人都受益于比特币价格的飙升,但现在是我们抛弃过去,转向更安全、更高效的时候了。挥手过去,开始让供应商和市场也参与进来。在交易的时候,我强烈建议你问问你的供应商是否考虑换成门罗币(或其他选择)。如果有更多的客户想要使用门罗币付款,供应商和市场就会想要换到客户方便支付的场景。

Even with these three factors, bitcoin still remains the common currency of the dark web. Given the difficulty of purchasing drugs and the lucrative nature of selling them, people are willing to put up with high transaction costs. Moreover, market participants have many other prent risks to worry about, and transaction difficulties to deal with: the threat of law enforcement running a market?as a honeypot?to catch dealers and purchasers; the threat of vendors stealing their customers’ bitcoin and suddenly disappearing; whole marketplacesscamming their vendors?and customers; the question of how?to launder?huge amounts of money converted from bitcoin. “If you want heroin, you might be willing to pay a fee, or take these risks,” said Décary-Hétu.

即使存在着这三个因素,比特币仍然是暗网的共同货币。考虑到购买毒品的困难和销售这些毒品的利润丰厚,人们还是愿意承担高额的交易费用。此外,参与者们还存在许多其他常见的风险以及难以处理的交易问题:比如执法的威胁,它将市场作为一个诱饵来抓捕经销商和购买者;供应商窃取客户的比特币并突然消失的威胁;整个市场都在欺骗他们的供应商和客户的威胁;如何从比特币兑换大量资金的问题。“如果你想要海洛因,你可能愿意支付一笔费用,或者承担这些风险,” Décary-Hétu说道。

Plus, they have few alternatives—unlike participants in licit markets, whose advantages bitcoin-denominated markets throw into sharp relief. The dollar and euro are stable, with prices shifting just a few percent per year. Online payment systems are cheap and reliable, with credit cards charging just a few percentage points to process a near-instantaneous transaction. Contemporary financial markets are rich marvels, offering hedges, insurance, security guarantees, and a seemingly infinite variety of other products to make buying goods and doing business easy.

此外,他们几乎没有其他选择——不像合法市场的参与者,他们的优势被比特币计价的市场迅速消解。美元和欧元是稳定的,每年的价格变动仅为几个百分点。在线支付系统便宜可靠,信用卡只需支付几个百分点就能处理近乎即时的交易。当代金融市场是一个财富的奇迹,它提供对冲、保险、安全保障,以及看似无穷无尽的其他产品,从而使购买商品和做生意变得容易。

Not so with bitcoin. Its original promise—to be more efficient, easy to use, low-cost, immediate, and anonymous than traditional banking—has turned out to be false. One can still use it to buy drugs, of course. But not so easily.

比特币的情况并非如此,它最初的承诺——比传统银行更高效、更容易使用、成本低、直接和匿名——结果证明是错误的。当然,人们仍然可以用它来买毒品,但没那么容易了。