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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The truth 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 such as 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 a decade since it started being utilized on an important scale, the dark web continues to be 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 selection of illegal goods and services – much like legitimate trading websites such as for example eBay.
So how do darknet marketplaces work? And 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 globe report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we have among the world market – http://www.electricity.bookmarking.site/user/maynard886/’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 beyond your realm of state regulation, each one of these is initiated and maintained by a central administrator who, along side 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 may also be ultimately accountable for determining so what can and can’t be sold on their cryptomarket. These decisions tend 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 site makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that may be attracted from police force 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 for sale across a dozen 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 details should really be contextualised with several important caveats.
Firstly, how many 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 most listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we are already acquainted with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the study centered on products listed for sale, these are likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the precise intention to defraud a customer.
Thus, the actual sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is probable minimal, at best.
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