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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 generally include black market PPE, illicit medications including 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 on this little-understood area of the internet. Nearly 10 years as it started being applied to a significant scale, the dark web continues to be a lucrative safe haven for traders in a selection 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 range of illegal goods and services – just like legitimate trading websites such as for instance eBay.
So how can darknet marketplaces work? And how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not just a free-for-all
There are more than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the world have largely didn’t contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve 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 away from realm of state regulation, each one of these is set up and maintained by a central administrator who, alongside employees or associates, is accountable for the darkode market – http://komiwiki.syktsu.ru/index.php/What_Does_Darkode_Market_Do’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators are also ultimately in charge of determining so what can 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 many products
the revenues a niche site makes from commissions charged on transactions
and the perceived “heat” that could be attracted from police 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 looks at 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, these details ought to be contextualised with a few important caveats.
Firstly, the number of dodgy covid-related products on the market on the dark web is relatively small. According to the research, they account fully for about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we’re already acquainted with – particularly illicit drugs such as for example cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research centered on products listed on the market, these are usually listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the specific intention to defraud a customer.
Thus, the particular sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is likely minimal, at best.
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