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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 including 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 section of the internet. Nearly 10 years as it started being utilized on 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 variety 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 just a free-for-all
There are now greater than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities all over the world have largely didn’t contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users all over the world market – http://serwer1397937.home.pl/index.php/9779-who-else-desires-to-be-successful-with-darkode-mar/0 report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we have among the world’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Despite 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 outside the realm of state regulation, each one is set up 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 are also ultimately accountable for determining so what can 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 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 in to the dark web
A report from the Australian National University published last week discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products for sale across twelve 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 should really 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 account fully for about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we are already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research dedicated to products listed available, these are likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the particular 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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