Fake negative reviews are a cheap way to screw up darknet drug marketplaces

In The Network Structure of Opioid Distribution on a Darknet Cryptomarket, (Sci-Hub mirror), a paper presented today at the American Sociological Association meeting in Montreal, social scientists Scott W. Duxbury and Dana L. Haynie lay out their findings on using fake bad reviews to disrupt the darknet drug-trade.

Darknet drug sellers are experiencing a boom, thanks to the scorching price-gouging practiced by pharmaceutical companies in the USA and the efficiency of their marketplaces. The cornerstone of that efficiency is the trust systems used to help drug buyers locate reliable sellers.

The researchers found that the usual path into drug purchasing is to use the trust-mechanism to locate a reliable seller, and thereafter to stick with that seller; they suggest that chaffing the reviews with fake negative reviews about bad experiences would deter first-time buyers from establishing that relationship.

I suspect that darknet buying is a little like the P2P wars. Back in December 2007, NBC yanked its TV shows from Itunes in a contractual dispute. Researchers found that the elimination of a legit market for NBC's content drove tons of new users into P2P downloading — and that even after NBC restored its content, those users continued to download from torrent sites, because they'd invested the time to figure out how to use them, and had discovered how much other great stuff there was to be had in the land of torrents.

Drug prohibition and pharma price-gouging makes an investment in figuring out darknet and bitcoin into a sound one, worth the while of many people. My guess is that people might come for the cancer meds they can't afford, and come back for just about everything, opting entirely out of the legit marketplace for medicine, and also gaining access to a useful and efficient market for recreational drugs in the bargain.

The study found that only 18 percent of buyers returned to the marketplace for a second purchase, and once they found a seller they trusted, only 30 percent shopped around. This creates a solid internal network of established buyers and sellers that can be difficult to disrupt.

The other problem, according to Duxbury, is that the marketplaces don't operate as separate entities, but as a growing interconnected network of sites. As opposed to a traditional drug trade, dark net marketplaces are less reliant on the connections of individual sellers, and are less affected by law enforcement takedowns, Duxbury said.

"In regular drug trade, there are key players that resources and connections are routed through. If you can take out those key players, you can really hinder the market," he said. "But what we're seeing here, there's just a ton of other key players that can fill the void. So it doesn't actually inhibit the activity that much."

The Network Structure of Opioid Distribution on a Darknet Cryptomarket [Scott W. Duxbury and Dana L. Haynie/Journal of Quantitative Criminology] (Sci-Hub mirror)

Police Can Hurt Dark Net Drug Rings by Leaving Dealers Bad Reviews, Study Suggests
[Jacob Dubé/Motherboard]