City Research Online

Emergence and structure of decentralised trade networks around dark web marketplaces

Nadini, M., Bracci, A., ElBahrawy, A. , Gradwell, P., Teytelboym, A. & Baronchelli, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-0255-0829 (2022). Emergence and structure of decentralised trade networks around dark web marketplaces. Scientific Reports, 12(1), 5425. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-07492-x


Dark web marketplaces (DWMs) are online platforms that facilitate illicit trade among millions of users generating billions of dollars in annual revenue. Recently, two interview-based studies have suggested that DWMs may also promote the emergence of direct user-to-user (U2U) trading relationships. Here, we carefully investigate and quantify the scale of U2U trading around DWMs by analysing 31 million Bitcoin transactions among users of 40 DWMs between June 2011 and Jan 2021. We find that half of the DWM users trade through U2U pairs generating a total trading volume greater than DWMs themselves. We then show that hundreds of thousands of DWM users form stable trading pairs that are persistent over time. Users in such stable pairs turn out to be the ones with the largest trading volume on DWMs. Then, we show that new U2U pairs often form while both users are active on the same DWM, suggesting the marketplace may serve as a catalyst for new direct trading relationships. Finally, we reveal that stable U2U pairs tend to survive DWM closures and that they were not affected by COVID-19, indicating that their trading activity is resilient to external shocks. Our work unveils sophisticated patterns of trade emerging in the dark web and highlights the importance of investigating user behaviour beyond the immediate buyer-seller network on a single marketplace.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HG Finance
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Q Science > QA Mathematics
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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