If you ever read VICE’s Motherboard pages, you may come across a number of articles related to the “deep web” and “dark web” (so to speak).
In particular, an article called A Tour of the Best, Entirely Legal Hangouts on the Deep Web explores some of the sites that are completely legal to visit (but may raise suspicion to some).
One of the sites they mention is called Beneath VT – Exploring Virginia Tech’s Steam Tunnels and Beyond. Though it has an onion URL, this same site has a mirror on the clearnet, at https://beneathvt.com/.
There are quite a few sites like this, actually; this is one of the myths I’d love to dispel about the Tor network. Not all sites hosted on Tor are exclusive to Tor.
Anyhow, Beneath VT explores the network of steam tunnels that runs beneath Virginia Tech’s campus. The site warns people up front: “Steam tunneling carries many risks. It’s not a game; like any other potentially dangerous situation, you must be aware of the risks and be prepared to deal with them.”
It features a map that shows various entrances and exits to the tunnels, as well as photos, descriptions, and advice for potential explorers. Personally, I think I’ll just observe them from the web (which is probably one of the reasons the site was created in the first place).
Yet another legal site on Tor is Jotunbane’s Reading Club (also featured in the VICE article), whose defiant motto is “Readers Against DRM.” They offer many books that you would normally have to purchase (say, for your Kindle or Nook) for free, as well as some that might raise a suspicious eyebrow or two, like The Anarchist Cookbook.
Some may ask, “If a site like this is already on the clearnet, why host it on Tor as well?” Honestly, I can’t speak to the motives of the webmasters, but if a site features material that may be questionable in any way (such as pirated music or TV episodes), it’s less likely to be shut down immediately.
Another reason, perhaps, is the general feeling of anonymity that people have when using Tor. For the same reason that sites like Facebook and Encyclopedia Dramatica have .onion URLs, Beneath VT probably wanted to have a site exclusive to Tor users. This is just my speculation, of course.
I’ve probably also mentioned that there are quite a few anonymous email and messaging services, such as SIGAINT, MailTor, and Onion Mail. These are perfectly legal in and of themselves, but may or may not be used for illegal transactions and such (I have no evidence to suggest that, of course)!
The reason I like them, personally, is that they don’t target you with ads based on the content of your emails (and things like that), nor do they track your location. It’s very calming, in a sense.
Then again, if you prefer the more sick, disturbing, and/or illegal sites, I’m sure there will be more of that in a future post. Off to do more research!!