BlackNet and fungible bits

From a NYT article on the efforts of credit card companies to cut out child-pornography sites from their networks:

Among purveyors of child pornography, Mr. Christenson said, there is a “growing trend toward steering visitors of these sites to various alternative payment methods.”

Mr. Christie said one of those methods involved granting access to Web sites in return for explicit photographs of children. “That phenomenon is something that we are very concerned about,” Mr. Christie said.

Tim May’s original BlackNet concept warned that modern crypto can make illegal trafficking in pure information nearly impossible to trace. The main obstacle to making BlackNet-like networks a reality at a consumer level has been handling payment: anonymous e-cash systems never really got traction, and non-anonynmous financial services leave a trail right to a criminal’s door.

What remains is a system of barter, or “CryptoCredits” as the BlackNet post describes them. Back when it was written digital information wasn’t all that fungible: there were a limited number of things that one could exchange in pure-digital form, and the BlackNet post mostly described a market for high-stakes digital goods like trade secrets and business intelligence. But bits have become much more fungible in the past thirteen years, and nowadays an illegal info-trader can find pure-digital goods at all levels of illegality. He might trade kiddie porn for digital movies, blackmail info for stolen credit card numbers, control over zombied PCs for World of Warcraft gold, or passwords to porn sites for validated spam addresses. He might even contract for specific services, ranging from mundane transcription of documents to decoding of CAPTCHAs to obtaining the phone records of an HP board member.