Last night, nuzzled in between narrow aisles stocked with high-end shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion with names like Jersey Bounce, Jungle, and Snow Fairy, a few dozen Midtown Manhattan cosmetics shoppers and I witnessed an impassioned defense of internet freedom.
Just another wild Tuesday evening in New York City for yours truly.
The occasion for this rather aromatic discussion of internet policy was the launch, at the 34th Street location of cosmetics retailer Lush, of a special edition "bath bomb" called Error 404. A bath bomb, for those unaware, is about the size of a baseball and is dropped into a full bathtub to add color and scent to the water. Sales of this particular bath bomb will go toward Access Now, a digital rights group that Lush partnered with in order to raise awareness among topics like state-sponsored internet shutdowns, online privacy, and digital security among a group of people that may not regularly pay attention to these issues.
"I would love to say that, you know, I'm like fighting for this every day because it's a very important cause, but no," shopper Kayleen Peña told me, apologizing for not being more active in the fight for digital rights. "It does cross my mind, though, every once in while, what if these vital communication lines were cut off? But I'm not going to lie: Lately I've been thinking about it more after Doomsday—you know, Election Day!"
Peña noted that the Error 404 bath bomb, while perhaps somewhat out of left field, could help issues related to internet freedom reach more people like herself.
"If even just one more person is motivated to take up this cause," she said, "that's another soul in the fight."
Access Now, for its part, will readily take all the souls it can get.
"We need to protect the internet all over the world," said Access Now Executive Director Brett Solomon, who noted that while the average American may not be worried about things like an internet shutdown, other people around the world are not so lucky, pointing to an ongoing shutdown in Ethiopia. "I think we all take the internet for granted—like, we just pick up our phone or look at our desktop—but in many countries around the world the internet is not to be taken for granted. People go to access their phone and there is nothing there."
So, want to help? The Error 404 bath bomb will be available from November 25-30 online and in select Lush retail stores (including the one in New York's Herald Square). The bath bomb will cost $7, with Lush donating 100 percent of the profit to create a Digital Fund. Lush's goal is raise 250,000 GBP (around $310,000), a portion of which will go to Access Now.
This article was updated after initial publication to clarify where proceeds of Error 404 would go.