If The Dark Net Were A Grocery Store, It Might Look A Lot Like This…
The dark net may seem inherently sinister, but by definition its much simpler and far less nefarious. At a very basic level it refers to the parts of the net that can only be accessed with specific software, configurations, or authorization — basically the corners of the net that are difficult to track by anyone who wants to look for them.
Anonymity is the name of the game, and this world can’t be googled because it doesn’t want to be found. But that doesn’t mean everything that takes place on the dark net is awful or illegal — most of what the dark net has to offer is not in any way illicit. It provides a space for anonymous stock trading, information databases, instant messaging services, artists platforms or the Wikileaks portal where whistleblowers can drop information without being tracked. And you don’t have to be a hacker to access the dark net, it only requires a few simple programs to ensure that your browsing goes untracked.
Of course the dark net IS also where many illegal interactions occur – primarily black market sales, and The Guardian recently reported that in a new study 80 percent of the traffic on the dark net is correlated to child abuse sites (though again, that only represents about 2% of the estimated 45,000 hidden service websites on the dark net.)
!Mediengruppe Bitnik, a group of artists working in and out of Zurich and London began a project to give visual representation to the black market that lives on the dark net. The group created a robot called The Random Darknet Shopper, an automated internet shopping bot programmed to reach its digital fingers into the dark net shopping mall and purchase one item once a week over the course of three months. The Darknet Shopper was provided with a budget of $100 in Bitcoins (the digitally encrypted currency of the darknet) to spend on each item. The items purchased would then be shipped directly to the exhibition space and placed on display in the gallery.
Why a robot? That way no one can be charged for the illegal purchases. Brilliant. “Can a robot, or a piece of software, be jailed if it commits a crime?” asked The Guardian about the exhibit. “Where does legal culpability lie if code is criminal by design or default? What if a robot buys drugs, weapons, or hacking equipment and has them sent to you, and police intercept the package?”
The items are incredible. Some are expected (ecstasy tablets), and others are less expected until you see them (a random list of 1.8 million user’s emails – who knew?) Interestingly, part way through their exhibit last January the public prosecutor’s office of St. Gallen came in and seized all of their work and the items purchased on the dark net. “We believe that the confiscation is an unjustified intervention into freedom of art,” wrote !Mediengruppe Bitnik.