Traveling the Silk Road: A measurement analysis of a large anonymous online marketplace – Updated November 2012
We perform a comprehensive measurement analysis of Silk Road, an anonymous, international online marketplace that operates as a Tor hidden service and uses Bitcoin as its exchange currency. We gather and analyze data over eight months between the end of 2011 and 2012, including daily crawls of the marketplace for nearly six months in 2012. We obtain a detailed picture of the type of goods being sold on Silk Road, and of the revenues made both by sellers and Silk Road operators. Through examining over 24,400 separate items sold on the site, we show that Silk Road is overwhelmingly used as a market for controlled substances and narcotics, and that most items sold are available for less than three weeks. The majority of sellers disappears within roughly three months of their arrival, but a core of 112 sellers has been present throughout our measurement interval. We evaluate the total revenue made by all sellers, from public listings, to slightly over USD 1.2 million per month; this corresponds to about USD 92,000 per month in commissions for the Silk Road operators. We further show that the marketplace has been operating steadily, with daily sales and number of sellers overall increasing over our measurement interval. We discuss economic and policy implications of our analysis and results, including ethical considerations for future research in this area.