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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The reality is more difficult (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 yet again focused public attention with this little-understood element of the internet. Nearly a decade as it started being used on a significant 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 are anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a variety of illegal goods and services – just like legitimate trading websites such as for instance eBay.
So 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 higher than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the world market onion – https://ads.massagemehomeservices.com/index.php?page=user&action=pub_profile&id=227115 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 have among 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, each one is established 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 in charge of determining what can and can’t be sold on the 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 certain products
the revenues a website 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 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 details ought to be contextualised with several important caveats.
Firstly, the amount of dodgy covid-related products for sale on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they account fully for 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 instance cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the analysis dedicated to products listed available, these are usually listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the precise 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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