Back in 2014, European art group !Mediengruppe Bitnik introduced the world to their creation, “Random Darknet Shopper,” and now the little bot that could is back, creating Mail Art and pushing social boundaries. As its name indicates, it was created to search the Deep Web and buy random items, which the artists then display in exhibitions. And as you can imagine, there’s plenty of trouble a little shopping bot can get up to out there.
In September of last year, the Darknet Shopper bot took its first randomized steps into the Deep Web marketplace Agora, with its weekly allotment of $100 in Bitcoin. It didn’t make big news until a month later, when it ordered 10 “yellow twitter” ecstasy pills. Delivered from Germany, they sold for $48 and were supposed to contain 120mg of MDMA. Previous purchases, like a Sprite stash can or an e-book copy of The Hobbit may be questionable in other ways, but the ecstasy was illegal. Still, the artists included the bagged pills in their exhibition in Switzerland.
In January, the St. Gallen prosecutor’s office confiscated the bot the day after the exhibition closed, along with the E pills. After testing, the Swiss authorities confirmed each pill contained 90mg of MDMA. The investigators released the bots and the packaging used to deliver the E back to !Mediengruppe Bitnik in April, but destroyed the pills.
Last week, the Random Darknet Shopper made its first purchase since its release; a fake Lacoste polo shirt that it acquired for $35.
While a fake Lacoste shirt won’t have the same body-rubbing effect as the pills, !Mediengruppe Bitnik has so far succeeded at sparking a debate about the implications of Deep Web markets. These marketplaces mix perfectly legitimate sales with illegal ones, and are nearly impossible to eradicate. If that means the Random Darknet Shopper occasionally orders a copy of someone’s passport or a small bulk-order of drugs, so be it.
Carmen Weisskpof and Domagoj Smoljo, the artists of !Mediengruppe Bitnik told the Guardian that they’re not afraid of being prosecuted for what their bot buys on the Deep Web. “We are responsible for everything the bot does, as we executed the code, but our lawyer and the Swiss constitution says art in the public interest is allowed to be free,” Smolja said. It will be interesting to see if one of the bot’s next random purchases tests that assertion.