The “Yelp-Ification” of the Dark Web: An Exploration of the Use of Consumer Feedback in Dark Web Markets

AuthorJordan Brinck,Brooke Nodeland,Scott Belshaw
Published date01 May 2023
Date01 May 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2023, Vol. 39(2) 185 –200
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862231157519
The “Yelp-Ification” of the
Dark Web: An Exploration
of the Use of Consumer
Feedback in Dark Web
Jordan Brinck1, Brooke Nodeland1, and
Scott Belshaw1
Law enforcement are tasked with confronting a variety of crimes on a daily basis,
ranging from traditional offenses, such as burglary or assault, to online crimes,
such as identity theft. The expansion of the internet has provided a new realm for
investigatory consideration as buyers seek the tools of the crime as well as illegal
products online. Since the inception of the Silk Road, the Dark Web’s first darknet
marketplace, buyers and sellers have worked together to distribute and obtain
products and services that were previously only available offline. For example, drugs,
weapons, consumer data such as credit cards numbers, and other illicit products
are all available for purchase on the Dark Web. Early on, Ross Ulbricht, founder of
the original Silk Road Dark Web marketplace, incorporated consumer “reviews”
on illegal websites to protect customers and to ensure that sellers were not taking
advantage of potential buyers. The nature of illicit markets, where websites, vendors,
or markets themselves can be online one day and gone the next, present challenges
to developing a complete understanding as to how these networks operate. This
study builds on existing research by providing an exploratory examination of the
prevalence of consumer feedback and review indicators on approximately 50 Dark
Web marketplaces. Findings indicate that more than half of explored sites displayed
consumer reviews on their postings. Policies incorporating feedback indicators may
be implemented to both identify and target for investigation and prosecution highly
rated and high-profile sellers on Dark Web markets.
1University of North Texas, Denton, USA
Corresponding Author:
Brooke Nodeland, Department of Criminal Justice, University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle,
Denton, TX 76203, USA.
1157519CCJXXX10.1177/10439862231157519Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeBrinck et al.
186 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 39(2)
Dark Web, feedback, markets, Yelp
How do consumers know which restaurants to avoid when visiting a new city or which
brand of a particular item they should purchase? Consumer reviews are often used by
new customers before making purchasing decisions or choosing where to eat. Today,
websites, such as Amazon, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, allow people to share detailed
accounts of their experiences online, which may contribute to establishing authentic-
ity, reliability, and a creation of trust (Kim & Kim, 2020). The process for reviews on
these websites is no different for sellers offering goods or services on the Dark Web,
where customers may be similarly swayed from purchasing drugs on an illegal mar-
ketplace with a low rating, in the same way they might avoid a restaurant that has a
one-star rating in the real world. Indeed, business will flock to services displaying an
ample amount of good reviews, thus, enhancing the confidence of the buyer as well as
the overall profit for the business. The ever evolving and expanding nature of Dark
Web marketplaces since the inception of the Silk Road, suggests that the demand for
anonymous marketplaces to carry out transactions of illegal products and services
remains prevalent. At its core, the Dark Web hinges on a libertarian framework, built
upon the belief that the land of the free should be exactly that (Belshaw, 2020); the
principal notion of anonymity spawned from this perspective, reflecting the belief that
the role of government interaction or interference between individual entities is in
direct contrast with the Constitution and the freedoms it grants its people. The right to
privacy suggests that a person’s private information should be free from public scru-
tiny, and privacy and anonymity are considered vital to a healthy, functioning, and free
society. Today, the advancement of technology allows consumers on the Dark Web
have access to feedback and trust indicators that may contribute to transactional trust,
without fear of their purchases being tracked. Given the importance of consumer
reviews on the surface web, it would seem that Dark Web sellers may be similarly
interested in establishing a reputation as a legitimate seller, while consumers would be
interested in assurance they are purchasing quality products from a reputable seller.
The experiences of earlier customers can then influence future customers’ trust in a
website’s product, which over time will build the reputation of the website as a known
quality seller. Rather, a buyer’s overall opinion is formed based on past experiences
built over a period of days, weeks, months, and even years, thus establishing a reputa-
tion, whether good or bad, which constitutes a measure of trust allowing customers to
make the best choice (Botsman, 2018).
This study uses data collected from Dark Web marketplaces to explore the use of
feedback for illicit products. First, we establish the importance and relevance of using
feedback indicators to generate trust in online markets. Then we specifically explore
the prevalence of use of feedback indicators to determine those products that appear
most frequently in these markets. Findings from the study will contribute to the

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