The Semptember issue of Forbes has a very interesting interview with the Dread Pirate Roberts, which is available online for free. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some highlights.
Competition and Publicity
Despite the giant DEA crosshairs painted on his back and growing signs that the feds are probing the so-called “dark Web” that Silk Road and other black market sites inhabit, Roberts spoke with FORBES in his first-ever extended public interview for a reason: As with physical drug dealing, a turf war has emerged. Competitors, namely a newly launched site called Atlantis with a real marketing budget and a CEO with far less regard for his privacy, are stealing Roberts’ spotlight.
“Up until now I’ve done my best to keep Silk Road as low profile as possible … letting people discover [it] through word of mouth,” Roberts says. “At the same time, Silk Road has been around two and a half years. We’ve withstood a lot, and it’s not like our enemies are unaware any longer.”…
…He tells me he’s happy to see competition in the Web drug market, even as Atlantis boasted in June that it surpassed $500,000 in cumulative transactions. Roberts points out that another site, Black Market Reloaded, has long copied Silk Road’s model–even offering a wider variety of merchandise, including illegal firearms–while still attracting only a small fraction of Roberts’ customers. “I like having them nipping at my heels,” Roberts tells me. “Keeps me motivated.”…
…Meanwhile, Silk Road has also been adopting some of Atlantis’ marketing tactics: In addition to Roberts’ first real interview, he’s created a new public site at SilkRoadLink.com that serves as an online guide to accessing Silk Road, bringing his business, at least tentatively, outside Tor’s obscured network.
Roberts also has a political agenda: He sees himself not just as an enabler of street-corner pushers but also as a radical libertarian revolutionary carving out an anarchic digital space beyond the reach of the taxation and regulatory powers of the state–Julian Assange with a hypodermic needle. “We can’t stay silent forever. We have an important message, and the time is ripe for the world to hear it,” says Roberts. “What we’re doing isn’t about scoring drugs or ‘sticking it to the man.’ It’s about standing up for our rights as human beings and refusing to submit when we’ve done no wrong.”
“Silk Road is a vehicle for that message,” he writes to me from somewhere in the Internet’s encrypted void. “All else is secondary.”
Bitcoin and Anonymity
The Dread Pirate Roberts isn’t shy about naming Silk Road’s active ingredient: The cryptographic digital currency known as Bitcoin. “We’ve won the State’s War on Drugs because of Bitcoin,” he writes…
…“We’re talking about the potential for a monumental shift in the power structure of the world,” Roberts writes. “The people now can control the flow and distribution of information and the flow of money. Sector by sector the State is being cut out of the equation and power is being returned to the individual.”
Will the Real DPR Please Stand Up?
Roberts isn’t actually the site’s founder, he revealed in our interview. He credits Silk Road’s creation to another, even more secretive entrepreneur whom he declined to tell me anything about and who may have used the “Dread Pirate Roberts” nom de guerre before it was assumed by the person I interviewed. The current Roberts discovered the site shortly after its creation in early 2011. Around that time, he says, he found a security flaw in the “wallet” software that stored Silk Road’s funds. The bug could have allowed a hacker to identify the site’s hardware and steal its Bitcoins. Instead of exploiting the weakness, he helped the site’s founder fix it, gained his trust and became an active partner in the business. Eventually, the current Roberts says, he bought out Silk Road’s creator and assumed full control. “It was his idea to pass the torch, in fact,” says Roberts. “He was well compensated.”
Roberts values Silk Road in the billions of dollars
“As far as my monetary net worth is concerned, the future value of Silk Road as an organization dwarfs its and my liquid assets. … I wouldn’t sell out for less than 10 figures, maybe 11,” he writes with a dash of vainglory. “At some point you’re going to have to put Dread Pirate Roberts on that list you all keep over at Forbes. ;)”
…The potential lifetime in prison he might face if identified hasn’t slowed down his growing illegal empire. “We are like a little seed in a big jungle that has just broken the surface of the forest floor,” he wrote in one speech posted to the site’s forums last year. “It’s a big scary jungle with lots of dangerous creatures, each honed by evolution to survive in the hostile environment known as human society. But the environment is rapidly changing, and the jungle has never seen a species quite like the Silk Road.”
Intrigued? Read the rest of the interview on Forbes.com.
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