The Random Darknet Shopper Bot Is Back, Doing Its Christmas Shopping in London

After being seized by Swiss police earlier this year, your favorite consumerist bot is back online for a new exhibition.

Jason Koebler

Jason Koebler

An image of the destroyed ecstacy the bot bought earlier this year. Image: !Mediengruppe Bitnik

The Random Darknet Shopper Bot—which earlier this year raised existential questions such as "can a robot be arrested?"—is back online just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

The bot, created by Swiss artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, has already purchased a counterfeit Lacoste t-shirt from Thailand for 0.1101 bitcoins off of the AlphaBay dark web market. Over the course of the next few weeks, it will randomly select items from the market and have them delivered to London's Horatio Junior gallery, where they'll be on display between December 11 and February 5, 2016.

"The Random Darknet Shopper is roaming the Darknets again and has already made its first purchase yesterday," the artists announced in an email. "This is the first time Random Darknet Shopper will be running again, after it was seized by the public prosecutor in St. Gallen, Switzerland in January."

The pair's bot is completely automated, which is why it exists in such a legal grey area. The bot scans through items on AlphaBay, selects one that costs less than $100, and purchases it. It then sends the seller the address of the gallery. The seller sends the item to the gallery, where it's unpacked and displayed by a curator. No human is involved until that point.

The bot's first purchase. Image: !Mediengruppe Bitnik

Given the way it works, it's entirely possible the bot could select only legal items to purchase. The genius of the exhibit is that human law enforcement has to figure out what to do if and when it purchases drugs or another illegal item, which happened last time Random Darknet Shopper Bot was live. In that instance, 11 of the 12 items it purchased were legal, but then it bought $48 worth of ecstasy.

The police seized the ecstasy and never ruled out charging Weisskopf and Smoljo with drug possession crimes. In the end, however, police elected not to file any charges, ruling that robots can legally buy drugs online for artistic purposes.

Now, we may have a second test of the legal system if a similar thing happens in the United Kingdom. It's hard to say how this will play out until the bot purchases something blatantly illegal (this is pure speculation, but London police probably have bigger things on their plate than tracking down one counterfeit t-shirt).

"We never possessed the drugs," Weisskopf said. "Usually possession of drugs means you found drugs in somebody's pockets. This is not the case. What do you do with that? For them, it's a bit of a headache. It's a bit of a headache for us, too, but it's really interesting to ask these questions."

"Mentally, these are questions that will be asked in larger questions in the future," she added. "You have a self driving car that crashes and hurts someone, who is responsible? Is it the driver who has no control, is it the company, is it the programmer?"