Salon has every right to hijack your laptop to mine cryptocurrency while you read it

Peabody Awards / YouTubeSalon Media Group CEO Jordan Hoffner.
  • Salon is mining cryptocurrency via the web browser of any reader who refuses to turn off their adblocker.
  • The liberal web magazine is being totally upfront about it, and readers have a choice: They can turn their adblockers off.
  • This is a cunning solution to the problem of people who think the web should be free.
  • The web isn’t free, duh.

Salon, the liberal, San Francisco-based web magazine, has a new adblocking policy: Either turn off your adblocker to read the site, or you can keep it and let Salon take the unused computing power on your machine to mine cryptocurrency.

The decision is, needless to say, controversial.

When I tweeted about it yesterday I was surprised by how many of my followers thought this was a good idea.

That got me thinking: This is a good idea.

If you use an adblocker, this is your fault

You see, Salon isn’t a charity. There is no ethical or legal requirement for Salon to provide you with free news and opinions. Websites are in no way “free.” Someone has to pay to publish them, to maintain them and keep them on the net. If you’ve ever tried running even the smallest web site you’ll know that the monthly costs of keeping one alive start to mount pretty quickly. Any company that publishes news that you can read for “free” is, in fact, paying thousands of dollars to keep it “free.”

And yet there is this weird belief, seemingly held by 90% of people on the internet, that there is a requirement for media companies to pay your internet server, and publishing costs, in order to provide you with information free of charge.

Most media companies, obviously, pay for these costs by hosting advertisements on their sites. But a few years ago, many people – again, it feels like 90% of people on the internet – decided that ads were ruining their “free” web experience, so they started using adblockers.

Adblockers are software add-ons that you can plug into your web browser. They prevent ads from being shown on any website you look at. Surfing the web while using Ghostery or Ad Block Plus is a wonderful experience. Pages load quicker, and there are fewer ads to look at.

The only problem with adblockers is that they will eventually bankrupt the websites you’re looking at, unless those web sites do something else to make money. That’s why so many websites refuse to show you any content until your turn your adblocker off. That is a war that was largely won by the publishing companies.

Recently, more companies have decided to start charging for their content. Business Insider has put a small amount of its content behind a paywall, called BI Prime. When we first started doing this, a lot of people got angry (probably a small minority of readers, but on Twitter it can feel like “everyone”). They were enraged that we were no longer going to give them everything free of charge.

‘Hey @Salon, this is a terrible idea’

Now Salon has taken things a step farther. It gives readers a choice: Turn your adblocker off, or continue with your adblocker while we use your machine to mine cryptocurrency:

“Your unused processing power are the resources you already have but are not actively using to it’s 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.”

Salon didn’t try to hide what it is doing. The warning is literally the first thing that pops up on the site.

Salon cryptocurrency miningSalon

Again, many people on Twitter are enraged by this. If you leave your adblocker on, Salon starts using the spare power on your computer’s CPU. This becomes noticeable – the fan on your laptop will come on as your computer works harder to crack the complex equations that crypto-mining requires. Your device will use extra power, or wear down your battery faster.

“Hey @Salon, this is a terrible idea. Forcing your readers to either run crypto mining code or disable ad blockers is actively harmful,” one Twitter user said.

These angry people have choices, of course. They can turn their adblockers off, and continue to read Salon for “free,” with no crypto mining whatsoever. Or they can go to another site and get their news there.

But those choices aren’t as much fun as being angry at Salon for hijacking your browser and running mystery crypto scripts that make Salon money.

‘I genuinely think this could be the future of media (if publications are transparent about it)’

I have also been surprised by the number of people who said they are totally OK with this. “I genuinely think this could be the future of media (if publications are transparent about it),” Lynsey Barber of City AM tweeted at me. Her sentiment was echoed repeatedly in the replies to the angry man I mentioned earlier. It’s true. Salon’s solution is cunning and funny. (And Salon ought to get more kudos for being founded before the dot-com boom of 2000 and surviving the crash that followed.)

Here’s the thing.

The web isn’t free. It’s not a non-profit org. Someone has to pay to create this stuff for you. Now, you can either use it for free (and tolerate some ads), or subscribe to your favourite bits (for a largely ad-free experience) or, in the case of Salon, continue reading for free while the company mines Monero.

You have choices.

But the “free” ride is over.

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