A follow-up to The Journey of cybertwee into the Deep Web
“It reminds me of Neopets,” my boyfriend said. We were sitting on a couch in his living room, and I had just pulled up cybertwee’s bake sale on the Tor browser, my laptop screen now filled with pastel graphics.
Back when I still played Neopets religiously, bake sales were something that happened at my elementary school to raise money for assemblies or for new playground equipment. Now, a bake sale was happening on an ominous part of the internet better known for criminals, illegal drugs, and hit men. cybertwee, an artist collective made up of Gabriella Hileman, May Waver, and Violet Forest, had successfully brought femininity and innocence into a male-dominated space.
From an earlier curiosity, I already had the Tor browser downloaded on my computer, and I opened up the bake sale website easily and anonymously. But for any customers brand new to the deep web, cybertwee had provided detailed instructions on using Tor, including a warning to those who decided to browse other .onion sites:
Don’t interact with anyone (and if you do, make sure it is encrypted communication), don’t download anything, and CONTENT WARNING, you WILL find terrible horrible, horrible things in there.*
Of course, there wasn’t anything remotely horrible or terrible to be found on cybertwee’s site. It was all very cute – swirly cursive writing, pink gradients, stars floating across my screen. The digital representations of the cookies were appropriately heart-shaped with neon rainbow icing. And seeing this display of absolute innocence on the deep web did make me pause and consider the implications of the project. Anonymity on the web is too often viewed solely as a way to cover up illegal activities and wrongdoings. But cybertwee believes in the right to internet privacy:
Everyone should know their rights to privacy in our post-Snowden society, whether you are a journalist, whistleblower, or the average Facebook user.
There were three options for a customer to consider upon accessing the bake sale instructions: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. cybertwee tailored their instructions to these different levels, and I chose to complete the intermediate track. I sent an encrypted email containing my order to cybertwee, using PGP and a public key that they provided. From there, cybertwee sent me the Bitcoin payment details using my public key, and I used my private key to decode them. (When I spoke to cybertwee following the bake sale, they told me that the PGP encryption was their favorite part: “It always feels a bit like sending messages written in invisible ink as a kid, like something clandestine.”)
Everything went smoothly, and on December 2, I received notice that my cookies had shipped. Three days later, an adorable package that was unmistakably from cybertwee appeared at my door. I removed the cookies from the packaging slowly & carefully, wanting to document my first purchase on the deep web (and the first cookies I ever bought with Bitcoin). Despite the legality of the transaction, I still felt nervous opening the box, perhaps due to the nefarious reputation of deep web purchases.
The cookies were delicious. My first reaction? “This edible glitter is absolutely amazing!” My boyfriend’s first reaction? “It tastes like they covered them in perfume.” (It wasn’t a criticism; he later told me that he really wished we had ordered more of them.)
I reached out to cybertwee to say thank you and to gather some info on how the bake sale went. “We were a little worried after sending out such lengthy text documents that no one would want to participate, so we were thrilled when we started getting orders right away after the .onion link went up,” they told me. In all, they ended up selling 95 cookies and raising nearly $300 for GynePunk, a collective working towards improving the resources, tools, and techniques for women’s health.
The bake sale, intended as a learning process for the customers, also challenged the three members of cybertwee. “None of us are bakers by trade, so we had to learn the basics of types of frosting,” they told me. Despite the challenge of finding a frosting that was sufficient for shipping, they ended up with a product to be proud of. They also experienced the difficulties that can arise from the sometimes-extreme fluctuation of the Bitcoin price: “[By the time of the bake sale], the value had fallen, which left participants worried that they couldn’t afford the cookies, so we were lenient.”
“One of our primary goals for the bake sale is to introduce you to alternative monetary systems and to Bitcoin itself, and to stimulate questions as to why they are or are not important,” stated cybertwee on the order instructions page. The project also questioned, “What happens when something innocent and cute takes place on the deep web?”
For me, the strongest moment of the entire process was opening that package in my front yard and thinking, Is this deep web purchase okay to open in public? Should I be doing this inside? With the current implications behind the words “deep web”, I greatly appreciate cybertwee’s efforts to bring internet privacy into the spotlight through legal, feminine, and honest methods. Many times, the media has been too quick to classify the use of cryptocurrency and the Tor browser as criminal and dangerous. But what about those of us who want to privately buy cookies covered in edible glitter?
– Emily Braun
(Now that the bake sale has finished, cybertwee is considering turning their bake sale instructions into a more permanent guide to the deep web & cryptocurrency. Follow their Twitter account for any updates!)
*The warnings provided by cybertwee do not accurately represent the entirety of the Tor network. If you’re interested in browsing & using Tor, you may not find it necessary to follow this advice.