Researchers break online codes of ivory sellers

Global - Ivory TD Farm
ILLEGAL: Codes used for illegal ivory sales in Europe. (Photo: CITES)

RESEARCHERS have broken the code of ivory sellers on four of eBay’s European websites in the UK, Italy, France and Spain.

University of Kent researchers Sara Alfino and David Roberts identified 19 different code words and phrases representing ivory products.

Using these, they said that despite eBay’s ban on ivory sales, there were 183 ivory items on offer by 113 sellers during their 17-day check.

Some broke regulations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and European Union regulations regarding the sale of unworked ivory.

Despite the use of codes and the problems this could pose law enforcement agencies working in different languages, the researchers found 80 per cent of the items on offer were grouped around six code words across the four eBay sites.

This suggests the sales of ivory items online between traders is standardising around set code words, even when using different languages, as globalisation and market forces affect their business like any other.

This could help narrow the scope within which law enforcement agencies have to search for the sale of ivory items and allow machine learning tools to be focused on key terms too, helping improve identification of illegal sales.

However, the researchers say further work will be required to monitor sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Craigslist to see what terms are used.

These sites have different ways in which items are presented for sale and therefore it is not known to what extent these code words are not only shared between languages, but also across these online sales platforms.


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