Last year, a Swiss art group called !Mediengruppe Bitnik created a robot to shop on Agora, which is currently the largest Darknet market. They gave the bot $100 per week in bitcoins and programmed it to randomly buy items. It bought a wide variety of things, which were delivered to the group’s gallery in Switzerland, adding to the exhibit.
The exhibition gained more and more publicity until the local media reported that there was ecstasy in the exhibit, at which point, in January, Swiss authorities appeared and abducted the robot into police custody.
Last week, however, Swiss police paroled the naïve little robot back to the custody of his creators, along with all his Agora purchases, minus the ecstasy. A spokesman for the St. Gallen police told CNBC, “We decided the Ecstasy that is in this presentation was safe and nobody could take it away. Bitnik never intended to sell it or consume it so we didn’t punish them.”
The group celebrated the return of the bot in a blog post.
Random Darknet Shopper has finally been released and is now back in our possession. All items were kept sealed and untouched except the Ecstasy, which was taken out of its vacuum-sealed packing. It was tested positive for MDMA by the authorities, and then destroyed. […] We as well as the Random Darknet Shopper have been cleared of all charges. This is a great day for the bot, for us and for freedom of art!
The bot runs on an IBM laptop in the gallery, and if you visit the group’s website, you can see all the items they received, as they received them. Items included knock-off designer clothing and tools for concealing money.
The group had decided to display the ecstasy as well, which turned out to be a mistake, as everything wound up being confiscated for the duration of the investigation. The prosecution decided to drop the charges only because it was evident to them that the group’s intent was not to distribute illegal drugs, and further that the exhibit raised significant political discussion about the existence and nature of Darknet markets. As the group put it in their blog:
In the order for withdrawal of prosecution the public prosecutor states that the possession of Ecstasy was indeed a reasonable means for the purpose of sparking public debate about questions related to the exhibition. The public prosecution also asserts that the overweighing interest in the questions raised by the art work «Random Darknet Shopper» justify the exhibition of the drugs as artefacts, even if the exhibition does hold a small risk of endangerment of third parties through the drugs exhibited.
It is interesting that the bot placed an order per week for months and only once wound up ordering illegal drugs. It is a testament to what is actually being sold for the most part on Agora, since the bot’s only limitation was that it could not spend more than $100.