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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 sold on 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 on this little-understood section of the internet. Nearly a decade as it started being applied to an important scale, the dark web continues to be 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. These are anonymised trading platforms that directly connect buyers and sellers of a variety of illegal goods and services – much like legitimate trading websites such as eBay.
So just how do darknet marketplaces work? And simply how much illegal trading of COVID-19-related products is happening via these online spaces?
Not really a free-for-all
There are still higher than a dozen darknet marketplaces in operation. Protected by powerful encryption technology, authorities around the globe 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 one of many world market onion – https://www.realtimeinternational.com.au/forums/topic/nine-world-market-onion-secrets-you-never-knew/’s highest concentrations of darknet drug vendors per capita.
Despite popular belief, cryptomarkets aren’t 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 set up and maintained by a main administrator who, along with employees or associates, is accountable 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 so what can 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 certain 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 in to the dark web
A written report from the Australian National University published the other day discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products for sale across several cryptomarkets, including supposed vaccines and antidotes.
While the research confirms some unscrupulous dark web traders are indeed exploiting the pandemic and seeking to defraud naïve customers, these records must be contextualised with several important caveats.
Firstly, how many dodgy covid-related products available on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they account for about 0.2% of listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we are already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as for instance cannabis and MDMA.
Also, while the research dedicated to products listed for sale, these are most likely 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 probable minimal, at best.
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