- From 1 May 2019 to 31 May 2020, 11 cryptomarkets were monitored; five of these markets closed during this period.
- May 2020 saw a weekly average of 66,099 drug listings, with a 23% increase from 53,670 average weekly listings in April 2020.
- In comparison to the last year, May 2020 had a 121% increase from 29,897 average weekly listings in May 2019. This reflects a general increase in listings since closure of a major marketplace (Dream Market) in March 2019.
- Empire Market had the largest share of drug listings across all markets, hosting 35% of drug listings in the month of May 2020, followed by Dark Bay (27%).
- Cannabis (30%), MDMA (13%), cocaine (8.5%), benzodiazepines (7.0%) and meth/amphetamine (6.2%) were the five drugs accounting for the greatest percentage of average listings during the May 2019 to May 2020 period.
- The market share of cannabis declined from 30% in May 2019 to 25% in May 2020, while the market share of cocaine increased from 7.6% in May 2019 to 9.9% in May 2020.
This bulletin series reports on trends in the availability and type of substances sold on the internet via cryptomarkets over the last 13 months (a new bulletin is released typically every four months). The current bulletin focuses on analysis of listings from 1 May 2019 to 31 May 2020.
Drug Trends has identified, crawled (or ‘scraped’) , extracted, categorised and analysed drug listings on cryptomarkets on a weekly basis since 1 January 2014, formerly using VBA programming processes, and since 9 August 2018 using a range of programmed automated processes in Python that operate with minimal manual input. Further background and information regarding the methods are available for download.
Panel A. Terminology
Cryptomarkets (‘darknet markets’) are anonymous online trading platforms that facilitate the purchasing of illicit goods and services via multiple sellers.
Number of listings is the sum of listings per single scrape each week belonging to a specific market and/or drug category. For this measure, duplicate listings (defined as listings with identical names and same quantity of drug by a single vendor on a single market) within the same week are removed.
Number of vendors is the sum of unique vendors per single scrape each week selling a specific drug category within each market. For this measure, a vendor is considered unique only within the same market; that is, the same vendor may be counted multiple times across different markets. Please note that the number of vendors is not summed across different markets in our visualisation and bulletin.
Our reporting focuses only on identified English-language cryptomarkets selling drugs which have ≥100 drug listings and ≥1 vendor. For a historical record of marketplaces monitored by DNeT, we refer the reader to our interactive timeline.
Analyses are concentrated on listings on these marketplaces advertising the sale of illicit drugs (e.g., heroin), key licit drugs (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes) and pharmaceutical medicines, as well as drug-related paraphernalia (e.g., needles and syringes, colorimetric reagent kits).
Following extraction of common text features across each listing (e.g., drug listing name, vendor name and the price in bitcoin or dollars), individual listings are categorised according to a pre-specified classification structure using a rules-based approach through text-matching in the first instance, followed by a long short-term memory (LSTM) artificial neural network (target predictive percentage 90%) that has been trained on historically categorised listings for those not matched through the former process (see methods for full details).
An accompanying public online interactive data visualisation is available, allowing viewers to interact with data collected over the total monitoring period. Data presented here comprise number of listings and number of vendors observed in a given week (see Panel A). These data can be considered reasonable estimates for trends in drug availability, as we cannot guarantee immediate identification and capture of cryptomarkets once they emerge. Further, data provided here can only be used as a proxy of drug availability on cryptomarkets: we have not translated to any metric that reflects the sale volume of a market or specific drug. See here for further discussion of caveats to interpretation.
There are various approaches to collecting, collating, categorising and analysing cryptomarket data, and inherent challenges in these processes. For this reason, we have attempted to be as transparent as possible about our procedures. Our monitoring is an ongoing process, requiring constant refinements to the various stages. We welcome feedback and suggestions so that we can continue to improve utility of these data and our reporting on them (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Profile of markets
The current bulletin reports findings for the time period 1 May 2019 to 31 May 2020. In that period, 11 cryptomarkets were monitored (Figure 1). Of these, five markets were closed for the following purported reasons (internet sources hyperlinked on market name).
- CGMC – Due to market issues in undertaking withdrawals, CGMC ended operations on 2 May 2019.
- Berlusconi – An Italian law enforcement operation resulted in the shutdown of the market on 26 September 2019.
- Tochka – Due to an exit scam, Tochka shutdown on 24 October 2019.
- Cryptonia Market – For reasons unknown to the authors, Cryptonia Market ceased operations on 14 November 2019.
- Apollon - Due to an exit scam, Apollon ended operations on 23 January 2020.
One of the biggest markets in terms of number of listings, Dream Market, was closed in March 2019, prior to the current reporting period. An additional market, Nightmare, was identified in this reporting period but we were unable to monitor manually or via establishing scripts for automated scripts. Nightmare was closed on 26 July 2019 due to an exit scam.
Three markets which have been operational throughout the period (White House Market, DarkBay and Empire Market) were temporarily unavailable in the last week of May. We have since observed these markets as operational in the following weeks in June 2020 and thus considered them as ‘open’ at the end of the monitoring period. However, two of these markets, Empire Market and DarkBay, have been observed to have shut down post May 2020 which will be discussed in the upcoming bulletin covering the period up to September 2020.
Figure 1. Markets monitored from 1 May 2019 to 31 May 2020