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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The truth is harder (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 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 section 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 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 – just like legitimate trading websites such as eBay.
So just how do darknet marketplaces work? And just how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not just a free-for-all
There are still greater than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the world market onion – http://www.shuozhi-wx.com/plus/guestbook.php have largely didn’t 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’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 beyond your realm of state regulation, every one is set up and maintained by a central administrator who, alongside employees or associates, is responsible for the market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators will also be ultimately responsible for determining exactly what do 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 could be attracted from law enforcement in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.
Experts delve to the dark web
A report from the Australian National University published the other day talks about several hundred coronavirus-related products for sale across a dozen 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 records should really be contextualised with a couple of important caveats.
Firstly, how many dodgy covid-related products for sale on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they take into account about 0.2% of all listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we’re already familiar with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the analysis dedicated to products listed on the market, these are most 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 likely minimal, at best.
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