COVID-19 Dark Web MarketplaceCOVID-19 Health 

Editorial: COVID-19 Dark Web Marketplace

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Kate Stone

With COVID-19 vaccinations in short supply, consistent government messaging in its infancy, and distribution plans taking stumbling first steps, the so-called dark web marketplace (DWM) is rife with unregulated products and opportunistic medical fraud.

Not all information is trustworthy, but nor is it all untrustworthy. Before putting trust in a piece of information (or an online product listing), and before assuming that all news is “fake,” please check the reliability of the source of that information. Reliable information about the coronavirus pandemic, including vaccines and personal protective equipment (PPE) can be obtained from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or the Australian Government Department of Health.

“Uninformed citizens exposed to waves of misinformation, such as the ones related to hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and azithromycin, may be tempted to shop on DWMs thus exposing themselves to serious health risks.”

Dr. Andrea Baronchelli

With many people unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine dose, data scientist Dr. Andrea Baronchelli, and colleagues from City, University of London have published their research into the COVID-19 dark web marketplace trade in products, revealing the need to monitor dark web marketplaces and protect people who may be tempted to turn to them.

Dr. Baronchelli and his colleagues analyzed 851,199 listings extracted from 30 dark web marketplaces between January 1, 2020 and November 16, 2020.

They identified 788 listings directly related to COVID-19 products in categories including questionable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), debunked medicines (e.g., hydroxychloroquine), and medical fraud. They also compared trends over time in the trade of these products with variations in public attention, as measured by Twitter posts and Wikipedia page visits.

Their findings call out DarkBay/DBay in particular and highlight the need dangers to consumers shopping for pandemic supplies on DWMs, especially given shortages in the availability and supply of COVID-19 vaccines:

“Uninformed citizens exposed to waves of misinformation, such as the ones related to hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and azithromycin, may be tempted to shop on DWMs thus exposing themselves to serious health risks.”

This research is published in the journal EPJ Data Science.

Reference

Bracci, A., Nadini, M., Aliapoulios, M., Mccoy, D., Gray, I., Teytelboym, A., . . . Baronchelli, A. (2021). Dark Web Marketplaces and COVID-19: Before the vaccine. EPJ Data Science,10(1). doi:10.1140/epjds/s13688-021-00259-w

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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