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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The reality is more difficult (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 such as 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 with this little-understood portion of the internet. Nearly ten years because it started being used on a significant scale, the dark web continues to be 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. They are anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a range of illegal goods and services – just like legitimate trading websites such as for example eBay.
So how can darknet marketplaces work? And simply how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not just a free-for-all
There are more than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the globe have largely failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world market onion – http://grassrootsinpower.com/author/robbinsomer/ report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we have one of the world’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, each one is set up and maintained by a central 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 are also ultimately in charge of determining exactly what do and can’t be sold on the 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 many products
the revenues a website makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that could be attracted from police force in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.
Experts delve into the dark web
A written report from the Australian National University published the other day talks about several hundred coronavirus-related products on the market across twelve cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the analysis confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, these records ought to be contextualised with a few important caveats.
Firstly, the number of dodgy covid-related products on the market on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they account for about 0.2% of all listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we are already familiar with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the study dedicated to 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 specific sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is probable minimal, at best.
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