Cryptomarkets And The Future Of Illicit Drug Markets
Aldridge, Judith & David Décary-Hétu. (2016). "Cryptomarkets And The Future Of Illicit Drug Markets." IN EMCDDA. (eds.) The Internet And Drug Markets. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
A cryptomarket is an online marketplace platform bringing together multiple vendors listing mostly illegal and illicit goods and services for sale. Cryptomarkets share the same look and feel established by ‘clearweb’ marketplaces like eBay and Amazon and allow their customers to search and compare products and vendors. What differentiates these markets from established ‘clearweb’ marketplaces however is their anonymous aspect. Although the academic research literature on cryptomarkets is growing (e.g. Barratt 2012, Barratt, Lenton et al. 2013, Martin 2013, Van Hout and Bingham 2013, Van Hout and Bingham 2013, Aldridge and Décary-Hétu 2014, Barratt, Ferris et al. 2014, Martin 2014, Phelps and Watt 2014, Van Hout and Bingham 2014, Buxton and Bingham 2015, Dolliver 2015, Decary-Hetu, Paquet-Clouston et al. in preparation), our understanding of these marketplaces has been shaped in no small part by journalists (e.g. Bartlett 2014, Greenberg 2015), bloggers (e.g. Ormsby 2014) and other independent researchers (e.g. Branwen 2015). Through a combination of these efforts we are able here to piece together evidence and conjecture of the implications of cryptomarkets for global and local drug markets. We begin by sketching a brief history of these markets and the technologies that gave rise to them. We chart the growth of the first cryptomarket, Silk Road, its demise, and the proliferation since of marketplaces in spite of law enforcement activities. We show that, in spite of the growth and popularity of these markets, their longevity tends to be short, and their success substantially hampered by increasing mistrust amongst market participants due to scams and, to a more limited extent, law enforcement activities. We then consider how drug cryptomarkets, or some decentralized version of these (see Buxton and Bingham 2015) may be likely to impact on the global drugs trade should they overcome existing obstacles, continue to grow, and ultimately flourish. Cryptomarkets allow for the possibility of a direct link between drug using buyers and producers or synthesisers of illegal drugs, and may eventually serve to cut out some of the middle level of the market. On the other hand, we know that a substantial proportion of cryptomarket customers are drug dealers themselves, sourcing stock to sell offline, thereby making cryptomarkets the very location of the middle market. We conclude that both of these characterisations are likely to be true depending on the drug in question. Finally, we consider the possibility that drug cryptomarkets may have substantial harm reduction capacity for drug markets by reducing the violence sometimes associated with these markets by virtue of their virtual location, in this sense reducing harm for drug dealers and within drugs markets themselves.
This content has been updated on 10 December 2018 at 16 h 10 min.