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Behind-the-Scenes: a Darknet Market on the Ethereum Blockchain

A team of developers are nearly finished with a decentralized market known as “Tralfamadore.” Everything on the market—from vendor listings to sales themselves—will be free from the confines of any one marketplace; the backend, running on the Ethereum blockchain, will function as a database for market content. As a decentralized system, nobody holds your funds and all orders are controlled by individual ethereum wallets.

In a post on Reddit, the group’s spokesperson known (Billy Pilgrim) detailed Tralfamadore. And, he explained a dilemma the group may find themselves in, pending future events. Note that Pilgrim said that he could be considered a spokesperson, but that it was not a formal title.

Pilgrim was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding Tralfamadore and the current state of development. But first, an excerpt from the Reddit post where he explained the project:

It’s a much different design than current markets: there are no accounts so purchases, purchase actions, and orders are all controlled by your ethereum wallet. The system requires no advanced Ethereum knowledge for buyers and vendors–not even copy-pasting contract ABI’s. Front end markets make money by mediating escrows and through referral commissions set by a vendor for each product. We will make it very easy for these front end markets to ‘plug into’ Tralfamadore.”

The problem is that the current investor is MIA, he explained. He posted on Reddit to gauge potential interest in crowdfunding the rest of the project—assuming the current investor stays MIA. He did not ask for investments as of the the time of the post. The original investor may yet return. It does not seem likely, however, and the group will likely be seeking investments soon. However, if the crowdsourcing route gets pursued, investors would receive compensation akin to a Kickstarter campaign:

Depending on the amount you spend, you will receive, in perpetuity, a corresponding percent of the investor payouts. For example, if we dedicate 1% of all escrow to investors for a total price of $20,000 and you invest $1,000, you would get 0.05% of all sales on Tralfamadore forever.”

We reached out to hear more about the project. I edited my questions for clarity and grammatical inconsistencies, but left the content and intent.

Italicized content is from Billy Pilgrim.

Q: Who should I say that I spoke with regarding Tralfamadore?

A: I’m Billy Pilgrim. I guess I’m a spokesperson although I have no formal title.

Q: Do you have any message you want to convey that has not been not clarified in the Reddit post?

A: Tralfamadore is easy to use. There is no hosting of your own nodes, no software to download, not even accounts to create. You initiate a purchase, pay with your Ethereum wallet, then complete the purchase when your product is received.

Ethrow is the same. It is Tralfamadore’s escrow ported to a system suited to the needs of off-market deals. We began working on Ethrow around a week ago and will be launching Alpha within the next day or two. A demo will be included to introduce users to this technology.

We aim to promote buyer and seller security through trustless escrows and immortal markets by making them as easy as possible to use.

Q: What expectations do you have for Tralfamadore [and in reference to Alphabay’s sales volume].

A: I have high expectations for Tralfamadore. It will likely take a little while to gain traction, but we believe it’s guaranteed to gain traction eventually. Darknet markets that have been around longer tend to be more successful because of their mass of vendors and perceived safety. Tralfamadore cannot be taken down so longevity is a given. Users will generally continue to use what they feel comfortable with for the time being, but when their preferred market inevitably disappears, Tralfamadore will be there. In an ideal world, every frontend market would connect to Tralfamadore, forcing them to compete on the ! quality of their website instead of its age/popularity and therefore improving the buying and selling experience while maintaining the utmost security.

Q: Is the aim ultimately drug cryptomarkets? And do you ever see this expanding into projects of different sorts? Attracting different crowds?

A: I believe darknet markets are currently in need of decentralization; I do not believe clearnet markets are currently in need of decentralization. I don’t foresee projects stemming off of Tralfamadore and I don’t believe anyone else on the team does either.

Q: The CP question seemed to bother some folks on Reddit. How will CP or similar content be handled?

A: Imagine Tralfamadore is a computer. Now imagine the frontend markets are each a monitor and keyboard that connect to the computer. Every market can save data onto the computer. Every market can display data from the computer. The computer itself has no choice what is saved on it. It is up to each market to decide what they want to display to the user.

In our demonstration frontend, CP and weapons will likely not be displayed. We haven’t talked about the specifics within our team but CP I’m sure we’ll all agree on.

Q: The hated question: assuming your investor comes through, what is your timeline?

A: Two (2) months. Tralfamadore itself is practically complete. The frontend connections, design, and security are what we are currently working on. As you can see from Ethrow, this is coming along very well and at a fantastic pace.

Q: What will bringing Tralfamadore to completion cost?

A: For the same timeline as the investor, 50 Eth. No matter the funding we receive, this project will come to fruition–the investment simply changes the speed at which we can work.

At this point we’re assuming the investor is gone. We’ve worked with them for a long while and something like this has never happened. This is why we temporarily changed course to create Ethrow in order to demonstrate the technology we’re working with while helping the community.

We will likely start a crowdfunding campaign/investment round soon. In this round we’ll be looking for 50 Eth in exchange for 30% of gross revenue in perpetuity. Any amount (below 50 Eth) can be invested for the respective percent of gross revenue. This includes revenue from Ethrow so one’s investment will start generating returns immediately.

Q: How is using the Eth blockchain a superior option for market owners? Or buyers?

The Pros And Cons list was provided by Pilgrim to The Majestic Garden forum:

Pros:
1. Mediated decentralized escrow easier to use and more secure than Bitcoin multisig. It includes functions such as auto-finalize and only allows escrow to be completed to the seller or returned to the buyer; there is nowhere else the money can go. Easier even than current centralized escrows.

2. The decentralized backend ensures the data can never be taken down. Not even the owner (us) can decide what is and is not on the backend. The frontends, however, display the data stored on the blockchain (backend) and will be able to choose what and whatnot to show. All vendors, listings, escrows, sales, and ability to create all of those cannot be changed by anyone and will be there forever (save for a vendor deleting their listing account, which ! can be done only by the Ethereum address that created it). Law enforcement, hackers, or even our team all getting locked up can not result in the market being any less than fully operational.

3. The decentralized backend is public. This means any and all markets can share the same vendors, listings, escrows, and sales and ability to create them on the same shared backend. The community will be less reliant on any single frontend site and markets will compete based off features and customer service rather than the industry being dominated by whomever has the most users.

Cons:
1. Transactions are all public and a decentralized mixer is not currently possible on Ethereum. Tumbling will be absolutely essential as everyone will be able to see where coins are coming from and where coins are going. It will also be easy to track the amount of sales vendors are receiving.

2. Information is all public. This makes sending your destination address a bit of a pain. Security through obscurity is no longer an option so at least everyone will PGP encrypt, but if you send your PGP message directly on the blockchain it will be up there forever, allowing future crackers to decode them if enough computing power is available. Instead of sending it directly on the chain, you may use a service such as ghostbin or onetimesecret, although relying on outside sources is another weakness and it still may be possible for someone to scrape the message for later use if they’re interested in you at time of purchase. E-mailing/messaging this information is likely the safest method, but not good UX.

3. Implementing messaging is not available without fees for each one. Paying a fee to post a message on the blockchain is not viable for vendors responding to many each day. Making a centralized messaging system on one market will nullify the benefits of Pro #3 as vendors and buyers will all have to use that one to communicate. The best option at the moment that stays simple enough for buyers, vendors, and mediators is ! to use jabber or secure e-mail. There is an Ethereum network protocol called “Whisper” that serves this exact purpose, but it will not fit into our fully browser-based

Billy Pilgrim asks that you leave him any further questions at the Reddit post or via Reddit PM. The email address in his PGP key will be not work but you can also get in touch with him through Reddit contacts that I will relay.

Pilgrim showed me an Ethrow demo and it is alive and functioning as a site but and the public will receive access in an alpha form, once it has been finished.

The Reddit Account to PM: BillyOnTralfamadore

2 comments

  1. A scammers paradise

  2. regarding ethereum contracts, JavaScript is so far from any normal language that I can’t possibly engage.

    If I read this right, it sounds like a piece of a puzzle that has been missing all along.

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve seen nothing of it anywhere prior.

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