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Vaccines and more: The response of Dark Web marketplaces to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Bracci, A., Nadini, M., Aliapoulios, M. , McCoy, D., Gray, I., Teytelboym, A., Gallo, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-8355-1689 & Baronchelli, A. ORCID: 0000-0002-0255-0829 (2022). Vaccines and more: The response of Dark Web marketplaces to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS One, 17(11), e0275288. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0275288


Early analyses revealed that dark web marketplaces (DWMs) started offering COVID-19 related products (e.g., masks and COVID-19 tests) as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic started, when these goods were in shortage in the traditional economy. Here, we broaden the scope and depth of previous investigations by considering how DWMs responded to an ongoing pandemic after the initial shock. Our dataset contains listings from 194 DWMs collected until July 2021. We start by focusing on vaccines. We find 248 listings offering approved vaccines, like Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca, as well as vendors offering fabricated proofs of vaccination and COVID-19 passports. Then, we consider COVID-19 related products. We show that, as the regular economy has become able to satisfy the demand of these goods, DWMs have decreased their offer. Next, we analyse the profile of vendors of COVID-19 related products and vaccines. We find that most of them are specialized in a single type of listings and are willing to ship worldwide. Finally, we consider a broader set of listings mentioning COVID-19, in order to assess the general impact of the pandemic on the broader activity of DWMs. Among 10,330 such listings, we show that recreational drugs are the most affected among traditional DWMs product, with COVID-19 mentions steadily increasing since March 2020. We anticipate that our results will be of interest to researchers, practitioners, and law enforcement agencies focused on the study and safeguard of public health.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2022 Bracci et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Publisher Keywords: Humans; COVID-19; Pandemics; Vaccines; Vaccination; Commerce
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Q Science > QR Microbiology > QR180 Immunology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Departments: Bayes Business School > Finance
School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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