According to a report released by the European drugs agency, drug dealers are becoming tech savvy as online drug trade zooms.
Research carried out by EMCDDA – European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction – into online drug trade showed that darknet marketplaces like Silk Road ensure a safer environment for both the dealers and users of illicit substances.
The darknet marketplaces make use of feedback mechanisms that are similar to the ones used by sites like eBay. This helps customers to hold dealers accountable for the services provided by them. Secondly, remote access helps to eliminate violence, which is part and parcel of drug trade.
As such, it is important that online drug dealers develop excellent customer service and communication skills instead of muscle power.
The EMCDDA report published last Thursday lists out most recent evidence provided by experts on darknet marketplaces which became known to the public through Silk Road, which started operations in 2011. Silk Road continued its operations till the end of 2013 when the FBI shut down the site.
According to researchers, darknet markets or cryptomarkets like Silk Road became successful because they brought four technologies together. These are the Bitcoins (virtual currency or crypto currency), Tor (encrypted Internet protocol), Escrow and systems for customer feedback. This gave a great deal of confidence to buyers and sellers.
Additionally, the online black markets like Silk Road often sent products by mail. This helped to eliminate personal encounters between customers and dealers. Further, the innovations in the darknet marketplaces have led to the involvement of a different set of people in selling drugs. Therefore, the skills required to successfully operate such markets have also changed.
The findings of the researchers also include the following:
The purity of the drugs available in darknet markets is higher compared to those sold by street vendors.
Darknet markets are virtual brokers. Therefore, it is easy for them to link not only upper- and mid- as well as retail-level sellers and consumers.
People who use the darknet marketplaces are more sophisticated and tend to use drugs for recreational purposes.
One-fourth of the sales in darknet marketplaces are for wholesale quantities, costing as much as $1,000. This suggests that retail dealers are sourcing stock through these markets.
The next generation of darknet marketplaces would operate in a decentralized manner (peer-to-peer networks). This would make it more difficult for the police to catch them.
Judith Aldridge, a criminologist and one among the 30 specialists who co-authored the report, said that the darknet markets are being increasingly used for buying drugs and that this can potentially change the way global drug markets operate. However, she also pointed out that they have their own limitations as they rely on postal systems for delivering drugs. As a result, darknet markets may not be a viable option for large-scale drug importation and supply.
Additionally, she said that lifespan of darknet marketplaces like Silk Road tends to be limited, despite the growth in their popularity, because of mistrust amongst buyers and sellers, scams and law enforcement activities.
According to Steve Rollles, analyst from the pro-reform group Transform Drug Policy Foundation, the creation of online black markets like the Silk Road indicates the adaptability of drug dealers. He also noted that at best enforcement can only displace markets. They cannot eradicate them.
The European commissioner for citizenship, migration and home affairs – Dimitris Avramopoulos – opined that the darknet market is just evolving and, therefore, efforts should be on to eliminate it. Dimitris also called for efforts to stop the abuse of the internet by those involved in drug trafficking.