It’s a portion of the Internet that’s long been shrouded in mystery — the “Dark Web,” what with its layers of privacy and reputation for hosting drug dealers and child pornographers, doesn’t seem to be inhabited by particularly savory characters. But now, ProPublica may be changing things, and changing the perception of the little-understood digital space. On Wednesday, the investigative news site, long known for its dedication to journalistic freedom and storytelling, became the first to launch a version of its own site on the other side, perhaps shedding some light on the Dark Web.
Like everything else on that side of the Internet, you’ll only be able to access this particular form of ProPublica by way of the Tor network at propub3r6espa33w.onion/. If it seems random, it’s because it sort of is — sites that work as a Tor hidden service have to create an encrypted key pair that corresponds to the .onion address. As Ian Paul of PCWorld points out “It’s likely ProPublica had to try generating many key pairs just to get “propub” to show up in the first part of the URL.”
In an interview with Wired, Mike Tigas, a ProPublica developer who worked on the new site, explained that the publication decided to take up residence on the Dark Web to ensure full anonymity to its readers. “Everyone should have the ability to decide what types of metadata they leave behind,” says Mike Tigas, ProPublica’s developer who worked on the Tor hidden service. “We don’t want anyone to know that you came to us or what you read.”
ProPublica’s move marks a growing trend among more mainstream denizens of the Internet, quite a few of whom have recently established a Dark Web presence. In 2014, Facebook launched a version of the social media site on the Tor network, and it seems that others may soon follow suit.
“Personally I hope other people see that there are uses for hidden services that aren’t just hosting illegal sites,” Tigas says. “Having good examples of sites like ProPublica and Securedrop using hidden services shows that these things aren’t just for criminals.”