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Dark web drugs markets – more TripAdvisor than Amazon

They used to be known as the “Amazon” or “eBay” of drugs, but modern dark web drug sales use a system more comparable to Yelp or TripAdvisor

 

Ever since Silk Road, the first mass-market point-and-click dark web drugs bazaar, made its debut in January 2011, the DNMs (darknet markets) have been invariably compared to popular e-commerce platforms. Reports would either refer to “the Amazon of drugs” or “the eBay of drugs” and point the parallels with those websites. Like Amazon, they were a one-stop shop for every drug imaginable, that could be popped into a basket and sent to the buyer with a range of shipping options. Like eBay, the sites brought buyers and sellers together and held payment in escrow until both sides were satisfied. Buyers would leave star ratings and feedback for the sellers, who would go out of their way to ensure their product and customer service would gain them a 5-star review.

Silk Road operated successfully on this platform for 2 1/2 years, before it was shut down through the efforts of ever three-letter agency that ever existed. Its owner, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested and imprisoned for life without parole and several staff members and some vendors faced a similar, if more lenient fate. However, many more sellers were protected by the dark web technologies and good encryption practices and looked to find a new home to spruik their wares.

It didn’t take long for several new sites to step in and fill the void, not least because the press trumpeted that Silk Road had turned over $1.2 billion in its short lifetime, a number that was drastically revised down by the time Ulbricht went to trial.

However, centralised markets are only as dependable as the person running the show. The one thing the tens of thousands of Silk Road users could depend upon was the honesty and reliability of the person at the helm when it came to holding funds in escrow, to be released or not as appropriate. Not surprisingly, the allure of tens of millions of dollars, the ability to remain anonymous from everyone accessing the platform, and the unlikelihood that those ripped off would contact the authorities, attracted some crooks to the game. These people set up stores using the Silk Road business model, but nicked off with all the Bitcoin once the pot became big enough. The most notable of these was Evolution, which developed the largest, most efficient and well-run market in history, only to have its owners – known only as “Verto” and “Kimble” – calmly announce almost a year to the day that they were closing shop and taking all the funds with them. Verto and Kimble were never identified.

Since then, markets have come and gone, some scamming in a similar way, others shut down by the authorities. Its safe to say the halcyon days of the DNMs is over. There have been too many failures and no market owner has earned the absolute trust that customers had in Silk Road.

That’s not to say the markets are no more. There are several in operation using the oldDream Front Page platform, with Dream Market the current market leader. However, more often than not, deals on the markets are done without funds being held in escrow, negating one of the major benefits to customers of using the one-stop shop.

This has led to a resurgence of direct deals between buyer and seller with no commisison-taking middleman. Years of DNMs has meant that drug users have been able to build relationships with certain dealers just like people do in the real world. It is almost a reversion to the pre-SilkRoad days of online drug dealing, but with the difference that, thanks to the dark web, dealers can openly advertise for customers.

Some have set up their own shopfront on the dark web, and others simply rely on customers knowing how to contact them. Direct deals are done via private message on a dark web site, encrypted email using a Protonmail or Riseup address or using the most popular messaging app for drug deals, Wickr.

While many dealers still have shops on the markets, naturally they prefer direct deals as they don’t have to pay a commission or trust a third party with their cryptocurrency. Repeat customers and word-of-mouth are the best, but the modern drug dealer still needs to be able to attract new customers.

That’s where sites that provide crowd-sourced reviews and information about different vendors come in. These sites don’t sell drugs directly, but provide an abundance of information about different sellers and the drugs they supply. Members of these sites have reputation scores, that mean the opinions and reviews of those with a high score can be given more weight than that of an anonymous newbie. Some become trusted independent testers who post results of reagent tests so that buyers know which sellers are sending out the most pure drugs, and whose are adulterated.

So rather than acting like an Amazon or eBay of drugs, these sites can be more accurately compared to Yelp or TripAdvisor. (And as an aside, how nobody has taken the name TRIPadvisor and run with it is a mystery). Vendors have an incentive to provide good customer service and quality drugs, or they risk having their reputations trashed in customer reviews.

Tripadvisor

There are several such sites, with the Old Guard  preferring The Majestic Garden (which limits discussion strictly to cannabis and psychedelics – LSD, MDMA and the 2C-family) or The Hub. The young’uns and newbies who grew up in the age of Reddit prefer Dread and Gangstas Paradise (which two sites are currently at war, but that’s another story).

Naturally, this has the same problem as all those crowdsourced review sites do – the reviews can be gamed by people with a vested interest and there is definitely a problem with sock puppet accounts and shills. Sorting out those who can be trusted and those who can’t can be time-consuming and confusing. Also, as the sites are hosted anonymously, there is no way of knowing who is behind them and what their interests may be.

Although no level of drug use can ever be 100% safe, and the review system is far from perfect, it does give users a measure of quality control over the drugs they are buying.

Stay safe this festival season folks.

Always smart to use a VPN. I use IPVanish

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