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The darknet – a wild west for fake coronavirus ‘cures ‘? The stark reality is harder (and regulated)
The coronavirus pandemic has spawned reports of unregulated health products and fake cures being obsessed about the dark web. These generally 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 more focused public attention on this little-understood section of the internet. Nearly 10 years because it started being used on a significant scale, the dark web remains 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 – similar to 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 higher than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the globe have largely failed to contain their growth. A steadily increasing proportion of illicit drug users around the world report sourcing their drugs online. In Australia, we’ve among the world market – https://ads.zibashahr.com/author/nealquong27/’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 beyond your 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 market’s security, dispute resolution between buyers and sellers, and the charging of commissions on transactions.
Administrators will also be ultimately accountable 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 police force in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.
Experts delve to the dark web
A written report from the Australian National University published last week discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products on the market 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 really be contextualised with a few important caveats.
Firstly, the number 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 most 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 dedicated to products listed available, these are likely listings for products that either do no exist or are listed with the particular 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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