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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The stark reality is more difficult (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 like 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 with this little-understood area of the internet. Nearly ten years since it started being applied to a substantial 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. They 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 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 a free-for-all
There are more 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 around the world market – https://www.findescort.gr/ads/want-a-thriving-business-avoid-world-market/ report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve among the world’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Unlike 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 beyond your realm of state regulation, each one of these is established and maintained by a central administrator who, along side 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 what can and can’t be sold on their cryptomarket. These decisions are most 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 into 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 analysis 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, how many dodgy covid-related products available on the dark web is relatively small. According to the research, they take into account about 0.2% of all listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we are already acquainted with – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research focused on products listed for sale, 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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