By Adrianne Jeffries
In the world of illicit virtual marketplaces, there is one clear leader: Silk Road, which has been in business since February of 2011. However, a few competitors have recently sprung up.
The most visible is Atlantis, which has completely discarded the paranoia and caution that usually accompanies the online drug-dealing industry. Today, the site announced it is planning a "big social media campaign," which kicked off with a video ad done in the style of a cutesy Silicon Valley startup.
The video opens with a cheery tune and a cartoon man in stunner shades and a tie. "Meet Charlie," reads the narration. "He's a stoner, and recently his job made him move cities, and he can't find any dank buds." The movie ends with Charlie getting "high as a kite" after using Atlantis, which the video is sure to note offers "no fees for purchases" and "next day delivery."
Atlantis has also been pitching journalists and offering discounts to top Silk Road sellers.
Isn't it a bit indiscreet for Atlantis to advertise its illegal service so brazenly (and flout YouTube's user guidelines in the process)? Silk Road, by contrast, does not even advertise its address; it must be shared person-to-person or found by following links from deep-web sites such as The Hidden Wiki or other guides to the digital underground.
It's very difficult for the police to crack down on either the operators or users of virtual marketplaces, however, so operating in the open may be the same as operating in the shadows. Owners can station themselves anywhere in the world, taking precautions to protect their identities. Atlantis and sites like it also operate completely under the table using virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Litecoin. These "cryptocurrencies" also offer users ways to protect their identities. Atlantis and sites like it are only accessible through Tor, the distributed network that anonymizes traffic by bouncing it between nodes around the world.
Isn't it a bit indiscreet for Atlantis to advertise so brazenly?
"We want to bring attention to the site and bring our vendors more buyers," a user purporting to be the CEO of Atlantis said on Reddit. "Law enforcement is going to be aware of us (and probably already is) regardless of the way we choose to put our product out there."
Atlantis says it has processed more than half a million dollars in sales since it opened in March, so the aggressive advertising strategy may be working. The company is also hiring an online marketer — to be paid in Bitcoin, of course.