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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 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 yet again focused public attention with this little-understood part of the internet. Nearly 10 years since 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 example eBay.
So just how do darknet marketplaces work? And simply how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not 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 failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we have one of many world’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Unlike popular belief, cryptomarkets aren’t the “lawless spaces” they’re often presented as in the news. Darkode Market – https://obutto.com/forums/users/jrtsara426862413/ prohibitions exist on all mainstream cryptomarkets. Universally prohibited goods and services include: hitman services, trafficked human organs and snuff movies.
Although cryptomarkets lie away from realm of state regulation, each one is established 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 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 website makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that may be attracted from law enforcement 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 available across a dozen 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 be contextualised with several important caveats.
Firstly, the number of dodgy covid-related products available on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they take into account about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we’re already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as for instance cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the study dedicated to products listed available, these are 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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