It’s hard out there for a publisher. But what if, ya know, the blockchain could fix it?
That appears to be the thinking of digital media brand Salon, which today launched a new way to generate revenue off its readers. No, not some fancy subscription model, but rather by running cryptocurrency-mining malware on visitors’ computers.
Starting Tuesday, if you happen to be running a specific type of adblocker when visiting the website you’ll be presented with a popup window offering you two options: disable the blocker or let Salon hog a chunk of your computer’s processing power to generate digital bucks.
“We’ve noticed you’re using an ad blocker,” the popup reads. “We depends on ads to keep our content free for you. Please consider disabling your ad blocker so we can continue to create the content you come here to enjoy.”
The reader is then given the option to “suppress ads,” which the site explains if selected will allow “Salon to use your unused computing power.”
What does this mean, exactly? Well, according to the “learn more” page, that “Salon is instructing your processor to run calculations.”
The folks over Cyberscoop helpfully get into a little more detail, noting that Salon is using Coinhive to mine Monero — the preferred cryptocurrency of criminals as it offers more anonymity than Bitcoin.
Salon is not the first site to try this — The Pirate Bay did the same thing in 2017. However, this is the first media company to publicly (and intentionally) take this specific step toward such an alternative revenue model.
And, on the face of it, it seems like a great move. Don’t want to see ads, but still want to read Salon? Contribute some computing power to generate digital pennies and we’re all good! Sort of.
The problem, according to some critics, is that Salon isn’t being straight up about how the process works. Specifically, Salon says its “opt-in program uses the unused portion of your computer’s processing power for as long as you are on the site.”
However, according to David Gerard, that’s not exactly how things work. “[Salon] straight-up [lies] about how computers work,” tweeted the author of Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts. “There’s no pool of unused power lying around — it’s costing you actual money. And wearing out your system.”
In their FAQ as to why they’re running malware on your computer, @Salon straight-up lie about how computers work. There’s no pool of unused power lying around – it’s costing you actual money. And wearing out your system. Corporate Bail Bloc. https://t.co/mKE1aGzkh9 pic.twitter.com/7iYudlKAqt
— David Gerard (@davidgerard) February 13, 2018
Indeed, it does cost money to mine cryptocurrency. Just think of all the expensive mining rigs eating up power that you’ve read so much about. Salon fails to mention this.
And that’s a problem.
While credit must be given to Salon for trying a new funding model — one that could offer real potential to cash-strapped digital media companies — the lack of full transparency represents a failing.
If we’re going to live in an age of publications mining cryptocurrency on readers’ computers, those same readers must be informed of the full cost. Otherwise, Salon is just running malware.
This story has been updated to include a tweet purporting to show the effect of Salon’s cryptocurrency-mining malware on a computer.