Random Darknet Shopper 20142016
The Bot’s Collection

Random Darknet Shopper is an automated online shopping bot which operated 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 on the deep web, where it randomly chose and purchased one item per week and had it delivered directly to the exhibition space.

We made a blog detailing all the purchases.

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, thus questioning the notions of legality and producing a vast grey zone 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 Sankt 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 12 January, 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 its 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 artefacts. The artists as well as Random Darknet Shopper were cleared of all charges.

Seized items

In 2020, the original Random Darknet Shopper installation, the bot and these first 12 items became part of the Swiss Federal Art Collection and are permanently on display at the Kunsthaus Zurich.

The video installation Random Darknet Shopper - The Bot's collection shows the 25 items which the Random Darknet Shopper purchased between October 2014 and March 2016 for the exhibitions at Kunst Halle St. Gallen, Switzerland, Horatio Junior Gallery London, United Kingdom, and Aksioma Institute for Contemporary Art Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Exhibition view: Random Darknet Shopper - The Bot's Collection, 2015, Zurich (CH) and Berlin (DE)