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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 sold on 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 more focused public attention on this little-understood element of the internet. Nearly ten years as it started being used on a substantial 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’re 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 just how do 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 still 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 one of the world market onion – http://www.86fag.com/comment/html/?324576.html’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Contrary to 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 of these is initiated and maintained by a central administrator who, along with employees or associates, is responsible 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 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 many products
the revenues a niche 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 in to the dark web
A report from the Australian National University published the other day discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products for sale across twelve 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 details must certanly be contextualised with several 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 take into account about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming most products were those we’re already acquainted with – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the analysis centered on products listed on the market, these are usually listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the precise 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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