Web Robot Buys Drugs and Gets Busted

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Image
A group of colorful cartoon robots

A web robot is a type of software, and not nearly as cute as these.

When Swiss police heard about a shipment of drugs delivered in the mail, they found an unlikely recipient: a web robot. And they arrested it (well, they took the computer with the software application into police custody). Three months later, the web robot was returned to the artists that created it.

The web robot (sometimes called a “bot”), Random Darknet Shopper, was made for an art exhibit in Switzerland. The artists gave it a weekly budget of $100 in Bitcoins (a form of digital currency) to randomly buy an item off a secret and anonymous network of websites, known as the Darknet or Dark Web. The items are then displayed as part of an art exhibit. Like many pieces of art, the purpose is to get people’s attention, spark conversation, and maybe stir up controversy. But the artists didn’t intend to have their web robot go to jail for its crime of buying illegal drugs.

In addition to the 10 pills of Ecstasy (MDMA or Molly), the web robot’s purchases also included sneakers, fake designer clothes, cigarettes, and a baseball cap with a hidden camera.

Police in Switzerland confiscated the bot and its purchases, but the artists eventually got all of them back—except for the Ecstasy, which was destroyed.

What Is the Darknet?

The Darknet, or Dark Web, is made up of a secret network of websites that aren’t found in Google. It’s where people share things without being tracked. Often it’s used for buying or selling illegal and dangerous materials, like drugs, stolen credit cards, weapons, etc. But, just because the sites are harder to find, doesn’t mean police don’t eventually find them—especially because those who control these sites don’t control the Postal Service.

The most notorious Darknet black market was Silk Road, which was used by thousands of drug dealers, according to the FBI. The FBI shut it down in 2013, and its creator is serving a life sentence in prison on drug and conspiracy charges. Authorities shut down a second version of the site, Silk Road 2.0, in 2014. That operation closed 27 black market sites on the Darknet.

New Technology, Same Old Risks

Buying drugs from an untraceable stranger on the Internet is not just illegal, it’s incredibly dangerous. The drugs can be mixed with dangerous chemicals, and unhappy customers have no way of getting their money back. And even though the risks are just as high with an in-person drug deal, with the Internet, there’s no one to complain to when things go wrong.

Tell us in comments: Should it be legal for web robots to buy drugs for the sake of art or science?

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