13 Feb Salon offers choice of malware or ads in return for content
Here’s a new twist on cryptocurrency mining.
I like reading Salon magazine occasionally to liven up my news and politics sources with different points of view. That is until recently.
While reading, I got one of those annoying pop-ups and was given a choice of two bad options for continuing to read content without paying.
Option 1: Allow ads on Salon.
Okay, situation normal. After all, advertising pays for good journalism and it powers my websites too.
Option 2: Block ads while allowing Salon to use your unused computing power.
So, I clicked on the “learn more” link and that information was a shocker. Here’s part of what it tells you:
How does Salon make money by using my processing power?
“The demand for computing power across many different industries and applications is potentially very high. We intend to use a percentage of your spare processing power to contribute to the advancement of technological discovery, evolution and innovation.
For our beta program, we’ll start by applying your processing power to mine cryptocurrencies to recoup lost ad revenue when you use an ad blocker. We plan to further use any learnings from this to help support the evolution and growth of blockchain technology, digital currencies and other ways to better service the value exchange between content and user contribution.
Your unused processing power are the resources you already have but are not actively using to its full potential at the time of browsing salon.com. Mining uses more of your resources which means your computer works a bit harder and uses more electricity than if you were just passively browsing the site with ads.
In any case, the possibilities for this sort of technology are limitless: In the future your spare computing power may go to solving the kinds of complex math problems that form the integrity of blockchains, but it can also be used for humanitarian and scientific projects such as helping research how proteins fold, to aid in biological discovery or helping pay for misdemeanor prisoners’ bail, or to see if we can better predict the impact of climate change.
Your spare computing power can even help analyze astronomical signals to figure out if extraterrestrials are trying to contact us. Some scholars have proposed using spare computing power to help secure voting and verify the integrity of democratic elections.”
Mining with malware
I included the full section not to bore you, but to shock you as much as I was shocked by the idea of this program.
Not to mention some silly and irrelevant copywriting that tries to distract from the real impact of wearing out your computer resources in return for reading content.
The more I read, the more I was concerned about the lack of transparency.
Orwell would be pleased
So, as a reader, if I don’t want ads, my other choice is to enable Salon’s Coinhive malware and let it use my computer CPU and my power to mine cryptocurrency to benefit the magazine and the malware company?
Nice. How Orwellian.
Somehow, this is not what I imagined as a benefit of blockchain technology.
I’m a content producer and publisher too. But I would never offer my readers this oppressive option.
If I want to support UFO research, climate change, community projects or other nonprofits, I’ll make my donations directly without someone else’s oversight, control or involvement.
I’m secure, right?
Salon reassures online readers we’re safe. The Coinhive app will supposedly only work while I’m browsing content on the site.
But I’m paying three ways. Not only am I giving up ad space and attention, I’m giving away energy for cryptocurrency mining take place on my computer CPU. I’m also reducing the lifespan of my technology resources.
Talk about a deal with the devil?
Despite the assurances, I’m not sure I’m secure from unwanted data sharing.
Giving up control of my own computing resources to third parties? Umm, no thanks!
Depreciate my computer hardware and software resources for your benefit? Say again?
Add more to my energy costs for your benefit in exchange for content? I’d say that’s too expensive and a deal with the devil.
What is Salon doing with my computer if I decide to opt-in?
Here’s more description from Salon about their cryptocurrency mining program. I guarantee it will not make you feel more comfortable:
“Salon is mining digital currencies (for our beta, Monero). To do that, we are instructing your processor to run calculations. Think of it like borrowing your calculator for a few minutes to figure out the answer to math problems, then giving it back when you leave the site. We automatically detect your current processing usage and assign a portion of what you are not using to this process. Should you begin a process that requires more of your computer’s resources, we automatically reduce the amount we are using for calculations. This process will use more of your computer power and electricity than if you were browsing the site without an ad blocker.”
Salon says nothing is downloaded onto my computer and that the mining process takes place in the background. It will remember my opt-in preferences for up to 24 hours and then ask me to opt-in again.
Thankfully, they suggest you can also turn off your ad blocker if you decide “you no longer want to donate your processing power when viewing Salon and are within the 24 hours of having opted in last.”
They close with the final cheery thought that “traditional online ads can collect far more information about who you are based on the information on your computer.”
Sorry Salon, I’m out
Trying to find out more about how cryptocurrency mining actually works on the website is an exercise in futility.
This is one of those examples where a little blockchain technology is too much of a bad thing.
I hope there are no other news sites or magazines out there considering this mind-boggling invasion of privacy and what some consider malware.
Based on 13 million monthly pageviews, the ROI from cryptocurrency mining will be an estimated grand sum of $64 according to Coinhive. That’s not enough money to risk turning off readers with this invasive tactic.
Sorry Salon, I’m not sure I’ll be back. I’m certain thousands of other readers will agree with me. And if I am back briefly to read some of your excellent journalism, please, please, just serve me the ads!
Author: Jeff Domansky