AlphaBay Market is now on top after Agora marketplace closed its services to the world in September 2015 for security reasons. Not surprisingly, like the Agora marketplace, AlphaBay Market is also being trawled by Random Darknet Shopper.
The Random Darknet Shopper is a bot that randomly purchases items on the darknet. The bot is the work of a Swiss art collective, !Mediengruppe Bitnik. Two artists, Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, developed the shopping robot, which has been active since 2014, to make the world debate the impact of online black market sites on the society.
The items the bot purchases are displayed in its art gallery. In fact, the bot just purchased a $35 (0.1101 bitcoins) knockoff polo shirt from Thailand through the AlphaBay Market on 25th November. More recently, on December 2nd, the Random Darknet Shopper purchased 2 Antminer Bitcoin miners from AlphaBay Market for 0.0706 bitcoins.
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Before moving to the AlphaBay Market, the bot did its shopping on Agora before the site closed down. On Agora, the bot purchased a number of things including a platinum Visa card for $35, Chesterfield cigarettes from Moldova, jeans, books, designer bags, and a very curious purchase, a set of skeleton keys from the UK among other items.
Fortunately for its users, unlike other large darknet marketplaces, Agora did not swindle its customers and suppliers through the now regular “exit scams” when it closed down. Instead, it quietly allowed the site members to get their bitcoins back before going offline. The darknet site was also dealing with the increasingly problematic security threats that may have ultimately compromised its existence.
From October 2014 to January of 2015, the bot was buying items from the Agora marketplace. The items were then displayed in an exhibition labeled “The Darknet – From Memes to Onionland. An Exploration” at the Kunst Halle St. Gallen gallery in Switzerland. The laptop that runs this program is also on display at the gallery.
However, this laptop was seized earlier on this year by the police after it purchased ecstasy online but was later returned to the artists. In fact, the robot was inactive for about six months before it made a comeback by starting to make purchases on the AlphaBay Market.
The program has a budget limit of $100 a week for making random purchases on the darknet, which will now order items from AlphaBay Market.
The Random Darknet Shopper has raised lots of controversial issues regarding technology and the existence of the Internet underworld. For instance, there were discussions as to whether or not a bot can be arrested after its illegal ecstasy purchase. The bot’s complete automation puts it in a legal gray area that raises several existential issues.
At the time, the bot had purchased $48 worth of ecstasy. Swiss police then seized the drugs, the laptop running the bot, as well as other things it had purchased but opted not to file charges against the artists who created it. Their argument was that robots can legally buy drugs over the Internet for the purpose of art.
The laptop was released after three months in police custody together with every purchase it had made so far apart from the ecstasy, which was destroyed. The prosecutor stated that the ecstasy possession was a justifiable means of getting a public debate about the art project’s motive.
It remains to be seen how authorities in other jurisdictions will react to the bot buying illegal things from the darknet, especially now that the artists have chosen to have it send its AlphaBay Market purchases to the UK. Over the Christmas season, Random Darknet Shopper is expected to buy a number of other things from AlphaBay.
But, as a perfunctory measure, the artists who made the robot have of late consulted with a lawyer to protect themselves from legal troubles in case the bot ends up purchasing items that might put them in trouble with the law. If it purchases drugs once more, which AlphaBay Market also lists, the Random Darknet Shopper might put its creators in legal problems.
Although the police let them off last time, they still had to take responsibility for the bot’s actions. Additionally, its purchase of illegal products online can result in legal liability for them by weakening their ability to argue that they never had the intent to purchase illicit items. Not all authorities might see the works of the Random Darknet Shopper on the AlphaBay Market for the public interest art project the Swiss authority considered it to be.
The items the bot will purchase random from the AlphaBay Market will be sent to a London gallery. The item will be on display at the city’s Horatio Junior gallery where they can be viewed from December 11 to February 15 of 2016. How London police will react is anyone’s guess, but it is highly unlikely they will make a big deal over a fake polo shirt.
The creators of the Random Darknet Shopper describe it as a live Mail Art piece that unveils the deepest recesses of the darknet by purchasing the goods offered there.
If the emerging trend by the Random Darknet Shopper is anything to go by, the bot will continue to make its purchases from the AlphaBay Market. The site currently lists tens of thousands of products, and experienced a spike in traffic after Agora went dark a few months ago.
The fact that Random Darknet Shopper has moved on to AlphaBay Market platform for its ongoing random darknet shopping adventures quietly endorses the site’s growing dominance of the online black markets.