Random Darknet Shopper

The Bot’s Collection

Three channel video installation, Full HD, 16:9, sound 9:40 min, loop
Screens, mini-computers, wooden backing, cables, dimensions variable
Five urethane rubber casts of items received from the Darknet

Random Darknet Shopper (2014-2016) - by Mediengruppe Bitnik

Random Darknet Shopper is an automated online shopping bot which ran from within three exhibition spaces in three different countries between 2014 and 2016. With a budget of $100 in Bitcoins per week, the bot went shopping in the deep web, where it randomly chose and purchased one item per week and had it delivered directly to the exhibition space.

Hidden online markets exemplify how the Internet in general and the Darknets most notably are helping to increasingly blur the lines of national legal dictates. Being global, these markets connect diverse jurisdictions, questioning the notions of legality and producing a vast greyzone of goods available virtually everywhere.

In its first run from October 2014 to January 2015, Random Darknet Shopper bought 12 items, which were displayed at Kunst Halle St. Gallen. The sixth order was a pack of ten yellow Ecstasy pills from Germany, which duly arrived and were displayed within the exhibition space.

“Can a robot, or a piece of software, be jailed if it commits a crime? Where does legal culpability lie if code is criminal by design or default?” asked Mike Power in an article about the Random Darknet Shopper published in the Guardian.

These global questions were then negotiated locally in the exhibition space: On the morning of January 12, the day after the three-month exhibition closed, the public prosecutor’s office seized the Random Darknet Shopper. The seizure caused a sensation around the world because for the first time a robot had been arrested for an illegal act. At the same time, however, it remained unclear who was responsible for the actions of the bot. The bot itself, the artists or the exhibition space and it’s staff.

In the order for withdrawal of prosecution the public prosecutor stated that the overweighing public interest in the questions raised by Random Darknet Shopper indeed justified the possession and exhibition of the drugs as artifacts. The artists as well as Random Darknet Shopper were cleared of all charges.