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Drug trading on the dark side of the net

Research team, from left: Dr Marta Rychert, Associate Professor Chris Wilkins and Dr Jose Romeo. Absent: Thomas Graydon-Guy (Massey University), Dr Monica Barratt (University of New South Wales) and Professor Jochen Mueller (University of Queensland)

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins from Massey University will examine the new and emerging role of the ‘darknet’ in the supply of illegal drugs in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Published 8 November 2018

The darknet is a part of the internet where both publishers and web surfers can be anonymous. These sites can’t be indexed by Google or other search engines and are only available to authorised users. They are the ideal web-spots for illicit drug buying and selling. The online drug trade has developed exponentially during the last decade, in parallel with technological improvements such as encryption, rating systems, and digital currencies. Current research suggests that darknet drug markets have proliferated in geographically isolated countries, such as New Zealand. However, no empirical research on the illegal online drugs market has been conducted here.

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins (Photo: provided)

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins from the SHORE & Whariki Research Centre, Massey University, has been awarded a Marsden Fund grant to investigate clandestine websites and their impact on New Zealand’s illegal drug market. His team will use web-crawlers to estimate the volume of sales and prices in New Zealand for major drug types from the seven largest darknet sites. In addition, the team will perform a comprehensive wastewater analysis to assess the total quantity of each drug type consumed in New Zealand. Monitoring the presence of drugs in wastewater will help capture information on consumption that may not be accessible through surveys. 

The findings will provide information about the impact of the darknet on New Zealand’s illegal drug market and give new insights into the market structure, pricing and wider operation of darknet drug trade in New Zealand. The findings could help in the development of new strategic and policy responses to the emergence of the darknet and related illicit markets.