The World Market Onion Mystery

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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 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 ten years as it started being utilized on 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 range of illegal goods and services – just like legitimate trading websites such as for instance eBay.

    So just how do 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 all over the World market Onion 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’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 outside the realm of state regulation, each one of these is set up and maintained by a central 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 their 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 website makes from commissions charged on transactions
    and the perceived “heat” that may be attracted from police in the trading of particularly dangerous illegal goods and services.

    Experts delve to the dark web

    A report from the Australian National University published a week ago discusses several hundred coronavirus-related products available across a dozen 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 should be contextualised with a few important caveats.

    Firstly, how many dodgy covid-related products available on the dark web is relatively small. According to this research, they take into account about 0.2% of most listed items. The overwhelming majority of products were those we’re already knowledgeable about – particularly illicit drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.

    Also, while the analysis focused 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 actual sale of fake coronavirus “cures” on the dark web is likely minimal, at best.

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