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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The 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 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 yet again focused public attention with this little-understood portion of the internet. Nearly ten years since it started being applied to a significant 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 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 now more than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the globe have largely didn’t contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users all over the world market onion – https://babel-rental.com/author/roseanne64r/ report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve among the world’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, every one is established and maintained by a main 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 will also be ultimately accountable for determining exactly what do and can’t be sold on the cryptomarket. These decisions tend informed by:
the attitudes of the surrounding community comprising buyers and sellers
the extent of consumer demand and supply for certain 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 in to the dark web
A written report from the Australian National University published the other day discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products available 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, this information should be contextualised with a few important caveats.
Firstly, the amount of dodgy covid-related products for sale on the dark web is relatively small. According to the research, they take into account about 0.2% of most listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we’re already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the study focused on products listed on the market, 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 likely minimal, at best.
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