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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The stark reality is more complicated (and regulated)
The coronavirus pandemic has spawned reports of unregulated health products and fake cures being obsessed about the dark web. These include black market PPE, illicit medications like the widely touted “miracle” drug chloroquine, and fake COVID-19 “cures” including blood supposedly from recovered coronavirus patients.
These dealings have once more focused public attention with this little-understood element of the internet. Nearly 10 years because it started being utilized on a substantial scale, the dark web remains a lucrative safe haven for traders in a range of illegal goods and services, especially illicit drugs.
Black market trading on the dark web is carried out primarily through darknet marketplaces or cryptomarkets. These are anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a variety of illegal goods and services – similar to legitimate trading websites such as for instance eBay.
So just how do darknet marketplaces work? And simply how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not a free-for-all
There are now higher than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the world have largely didn’t contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world market onion – Wiki.Skovdemakerspace.se – https://wiki.skovdemakerspace.se/doku.php?id=profile_clarkcorcoran19 – report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve one of the world’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Despite popular belief, cryptomarkets aren’t the “lawless spaces” they’re often presented as in the news. Market prohibitions exist on all mainstream cryptomarkets. Universally prohibited goods and services include: hitman services, trafficked human organs and snuff movies.
Although cryptomarkets lie outside the realm of state regulation, every one is established and maintained by a central administrator who, alongside employees or associates, is accountable for the market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators may also be ultimately in charge of determining what can and can’t be sold on the cryptomarket. These decisions are most likely informed by:
the attitudes of the surrounding community comprising buyers and sellers
the extent of consumer demand and supply for several products
the revenues a niche site makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that may be attracted from police in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.
Experts delve to the dark web
A written report from the Australian National University published a week ago talks about several hundred coronavirus-related products on the market across several cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the research confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, these records should really be contextualised with several important caveats.
Firstly, the amount of dodgy covid-related products on the market on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they take into account about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming most products were those we’re already familiar with – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research centered on products listed for sale, these are most likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the specific intention to defraud a customer.
Thus, the particular sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is probable minimal, at best.
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