The Vending Private Network

Configure your VPN using a vending machine

Alasdair Allan
3 min readNov 30, 2018

Walking on the edge between art and technology can produce interesting results, especially when the work subverts everyday objects to new purposes. A new work by Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev does just that, as their “Vending Private Network” takes a vending machine of the style you’d more normally see in a public restroom, and then twists it.

The Vending Private Network in the wild. (📷: Guillaume Querard)

“Vending Private Network takes the form of a condom vending machine, such as those typically seen in public toilets, nightclubs and bars. Equipped with mechanical buttons, a coin-slot and USB ports, it offers 4 VPN routes, each with an animated graphic depicting the route as a fantasy destination.”

The work provides publicly funded infrastructure for private communications. A user can insert a USB stick along with a €1 coin into the machine. After they do so they can then select one of four destinations and a unique VPB configuration file will be written to the stick along with instructions for its use. Current routings for the VPN are via machines in Taiwan, Mexico, South Africa, and Iceland. All of these machines are directly controlled by the Critical Engineering Working Group, and the locations were selected as they are not within the Five Eyes mass-surveillance partnership.

The Vending Private Network in the wild. (📷: Guillaume Querard)

The coins inserted into the machine directly fund the monthly hosting costs of the machines needed to provide the VPN routing, and should one of the routings not have enough money deposited each month the server will be shutdown and the machine will display an “out of service” logo until sufficient money is deposited to restart the server.

In an interesting twist, each paid for VPN configuration vended will generate another “shadow config” to be shipped to dissidents and activist organisations in Turkey, China, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iran.

The Vending Private Network in action. (📹: Guillaume Querard)

Interestingly perhaps, despite the obvious differences in intention and the inversion in risk, the work reminds me of the USB Dead Drop project conceived by Berlin-based conceptual artist Aram Bartholl. Perhaps because, like the dead drop, the VPN is protrusion of the online world, into our physical space.

The work is currently touring four galleries. Originally on display at the Furtherfield Gallery in London where it was part of the Transnationalisms exhibition until the end of October, the piece is now being shown at the Stateless group exhibition in the NeMe Arts Centre, in Limassol, where it has been on show all through this month and will remain as part of the exhibit throughout December, before finally being presented in the Aksioma Project Space (Ljubljana) and the Filodrammatica gallery (Rijeka) in early 2019 as a solo exhibition by The Critical Engineering Working Group.