This article was published on February 13, 2018

Salon is using adblocking readers’ CPU power to mine cryptocurrency

Salon is using adblocking readers’ CPU power to mine cryptocurrency
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Mix is a tech writer based in Amsterdam that loves cinema and probably hates the movies that you like. Tell him everything you despise about Mix is a tech writer based in Amsterdam that loves cinema and probably hates the movies that you like. Tell him everything you despise about his work on Twitter.

It seems popular online magazine Salon is the latest company to hop onto the cryptocurrency mining bandwagon. The publication has updated its website to require users to disable their ad-blockers for the right to read articles – or alternatively, lend their CPU power to mine cryptocurrency.

Visitors are now prompted to either turn off ad-blockers altogether or select the new ‘Suppress Ads’ option to “block ads by allowing Salon to use your unused computing power.”

According to a clarification on its website, opting to lend your “unused processing power” will only happen “when you are browsing” The other options are to switch ad-blockers off, or pay for their ad-free apps on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon Fire.

The good thing is that the it is entirely up to the users to opt-in for the CPU-borrowing option. “If you opt-in, your ad-blocker remains turned on, and your experience will remain consistent with the experience you are used to when you come to with your ad-blocker on.”

The publication goes on to explain that opting-in means Salon will use your computing power solely when you are on its website. “[Y]our computer will only be donating its spare processing power for the duration that you are browsing,” the page reads. “When you close in your browser, the process stops.”

The current setup remembers opt-in preferences for up to 24 hours; once this window has closed, users will be asked to opt-in again.

There is nothing inherently wrong with exploring alternative approaches to monetizing on your content, but Salon seems to suggest that lending your CPU power to them somehow advances the entire blockchain and cryptocurrency space.

“For our beta program, we’ll start by applying your processing power to help support the evolution and growth of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies,” the FAQ page reads.

“However, the possibilities for this sort of technology are limitless,” it continues. “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 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.”

It remains unclear whether Salon has any intentions to donate some of its mining profits to further blockchain research and applications, but nothing in its new terms suggests this is the case.

While the mentioned applications and developments are indeed authentic, Salon is merely using users’ CPU power to support its own operations – not pushing the mining industry forward. To imply that lending them your computing cycles supports the entire industry is borderline unethical, to say the least.

In all fairness, borrowing visitors’ CPU cycles to mine cryptocurrency for profits is not a novel business model. Indeed, The Pirate Bay was caught resorting to this same tactic last year – the problem was that it conveniently forgot to notify its users about it.

While the website temporarily disabled the mining implementation, it was busted pulling the same shenanigans again on another occasion. This time around though, the Pirate Bay had made it impossible to opt out of lending your CPU power to the website.

As TorrentFreak later pointed out, stealing computing cycles from users could hardly bring more profits to The Pirate Bay than ads – while arguably making the user experience significantly less convenient.

It remains to be seen whether Salon can work out how to borrow computing resources from users without impacting the reading experience, but in case you want to protect yourself from other websites jacking your CPU to mine crypto – there are measures you can take to prevent this from happening.

[H/T @TheNextWoods]

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