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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 generally 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 again focused public attention on this little-understood portion of the internet. Nearly a decade because it started being applied to a substantial scale, the dark web remains a lucrative safe haven for traders in a variety 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 range of illegal goods and services – similar to legitimate trading websites such as for instance eBay.
So how can darknet marketplaces work? And how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not really a free-for-all
There are now higher than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities all over the world have largely failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve among the World Market – http://www.jessicaferrari.it/?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=user&id=2434719’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Unlike popular belief, cryptomarkets are not 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 beyond your realm of state regulation, every one is established and maintained by a main administrator who, alongside employees or associates, is in charge of the market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators will also be ultimately accountable for determining what can and can’t be sold on their cryptomarket. These decisions are 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 site makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that could be attracted from law enforcement 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 the other day discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products available across a dozen cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the study confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, these details must be contextualised with a few 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 most listed items. The overwhelming most products were those we are already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the study dedicated to products listed available, these are likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the specific intention to defraud a customer.
Thus, the specific sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is probable minimal, at best.
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