Overview. The dark web (and some parts of the deep web) includes every manner of content, including legal and illegal, ethical and unethical, innocuous and offensive, authentic and fraudulent. It includes claims about increasingly spectacular data breaches that expose personal information about billions of people, companies, countries, and other organizations around the world. The damage these breaches have caused is well known. What is not known, and what we are now studying, is whether we might be able to find a silver lining in these dark clouds by creating some social good out of all this chaos. If you know of data or information on the dark web or elsewhere that might be useful for academic research, we would appreciate hearing from you.
How to Contact Us. The most secure way to contact us is with our state-of-the-art SecureDrop site, the first ever anonymous email and file transfer site with a scholarly research mission, set up at a university. (SecureDrop is an extremely secure technique used by the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, and other media outlets to receive communications from whistleblowers. We have worked extensively with the Freedom of the Press Foundation to modify the SecureDrop infrastructure, and contribute to their open source codebase, so that their techniques work in a university environment with the same high security level.) Secure Drop encrypts both communication content and all records of any communication. You may also contact us via encrypted text (on Signal at 339-337-2605) or PGP-encrypted email (to email@example.com using our public key), methods that will protect the content but may leave a record of our communication.
Help for Scholars. Some previous scholars have published using dark web data that skirt legal regulations and university rules, creating risks for themselves, their universities, the journals, and the scholarly community. This may be particularly problemmatic given increasing cybersecurity dangers (from keyloggers, viruses, ransomware, zip bombs, trojan horses, spyware, and other types of malware). Scholars who use these data are balancing these risks with the public good that may result from their scholarly analyses. The SilverLining Project aims to reduce the need for balancing, reduce these risks, and thus open up more data for scholarly analysis. We have therefore studied what types of dark web data meet the complex web of international legal, regulatory, university, and ethical standards; obtained many such datasets; built extensive security, IT, networking, and air gapped physical infrastructure that enables us to safely work with these data; and continue to document, clean, de-identify, archive, and analyze what we find. Launching this project involved several years years of preliminary study, coding, and negotiation with Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Institutional Review Board, Office of General Counsel, Information Technology, Public Affairs and Communications Office, Office of Sponsored Programs, and Offices of the President and Provost, and many others. The steps of scholars are complicated, inconsistent, undocumented, and controversial, and so we are also working on papers to help so others can also seek to find a siliver lining in the clouds on the dark web. We also hope to contribute a range of methodological and substantive results to the scholarly literature from our analyses, about which more soon.
Guidelines. If you wish to release information for immediate public consumption, consider contacting one of the news organizations with a SecureDrop site. As social scientists, our goal is to understand and ameliorate the greatest challenges that afflict human societies, using the most scientifically rigorous procedures, no matter how long it takes. Please note also that the legal rules and regulations governing us, and all university academics, are substantially more restrictive than those of news outlets, private companies, government agencies, and other organizations. Please do not hack systems for the purpose of obtaining data unlawfully; we also cannot offer compensation for what you share with us but, if you do share information with us, you may contribute to the creation of considerable social good, which could benefit everyone.
A Note to Journalists. If you sometimes come across confidential data, we'd love to have a conversation about extending the impact of your work. We develop novel methods to generate scientific insights from complicated data and would be happy to share these with, or develop them for, you. While journalists are breaking news now, we aim to generate scientific knowledge with long term social value. Sharing data with us may enable you to contribute to both the short and long term. We are also safe: We have a long history dealing appropriately with highly sensitive data. We are even legally prohibited from giving informative data to your competitors, or anyone else, or from scooping you on (or even writing about) the subjects journalists emphasize.
Who We Are. Aaron Kaufman, Assistant Professor of Political Science, New York University Abu Dhabi; Gary King, Albert J Weatherhead III University Professor, and Director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University; Zagreb Mukerjee, Research Data Scientist, Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Harvard University; Zach Wehrwein, Doctoral Student in Sociology, Harvard University. We are are all affiliated with the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, which has long been at the forefront of research using sensitive, large-scale data to create public good. We reverse engineered Chinese government censorship and fabrication of social media posts and helped allow privacy-protected researcher access to Facebook data. IQSS' Privacy Insights Project designs technology for protecting the privacy of individuals and groups in research data, and our international, open source Dataverse project now manages the largest collection of social science research data in the world.