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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 such as 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 part of the internet. Nearly 10 years because it started being applied to 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. 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 eBay.
So how can 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 currently more than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the world market onion – https://wiki.berkeleymorris.org/User:LukasOrmond49 have largely failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users all over the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve among the world’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 set up and maintained by a main administrator who, along side 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 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 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 last week talks about several hundred coronavirus-related products available across twelve 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 must be contextualised with a few 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 all listed items. The overwhelming most of products were those we are already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research centered on 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 actual sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is likely minimal, at best.
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