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Salon is now using readers’ browsers to mine cryptocurrencies

A recently published FAQ explains how the progressive site is using its readers to make money

BTC on Keyboard with B

(Kevin Sanders for Modern Consensus)

The fewer and fewer people who are visiting progressive-leaning blog site Salon may be mining cryptocurrencies, according to a recently published FAQ on the site. Based on data from Archive.org, the FAQ was first published on Monday, February 12, 2018.

[Editor’s note: We’ve just heard back from Salon. We hope to have more updates shortly.] 

Those visitors to Salon using an ad blocker are now given two choices: disable the blocker or let Salon use some of their computers CPU to mine cryptocurrencies while they catch up on the circus that is American politics. Of course, Salon couches it in terms that make one’s bleeding heart flutter just a little bit.

First, Salon’s FAQ provides a history of the sorry state of newspapers to get readers on board with this new endeavor. Ad revenues fell to $20 billion in 2010 from $60 billion in 1999, they point out. Naturally, Salon doesn’t go into the role online publications—like, well, Salon—played in killing the newspaper subscription business by offering quick and free news and opinion. Instead, it paints Salon as a pioneer in the struggle for revenue. We’re all in this together, guys!

Then it gives this exciting piece of information:

“We realize that specific technological developments now mean that it is not merely the reader’s eyeballs that have value to our site — it’s also your computer’s ability to make calculations, too. Indeed, your computer itself can help support our ability to pay our editors and journalists.”

It’s like the next line should’ve been “We’re pro-science! Just like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye! And you can help support journalists, too! We love journalists! Trump hates science AND journalists! Go, Salon!”

Going along with that theme, Salon then says it’s solving some math problems should users opt out of ads. Solving problems is a good thing. We all want to solve problems.

“Salon is 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.”

You won’t even notice it! And, as an added bonus, the words “math problems” links to a story titled, “How the technology behind Bitcoin can save our elections”. Democracy is also going to be saved! (Just as a counter to this argument, here’s a story from The Atlantic about why some technologists prefer paper ballots.)

The end of the FAQ is particularly sappy as it explains how they make money on this endeavor.

“The demand for computing power across many different industries and applications is potentially very high. We intend to use a small 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 help support the evolution and growth of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.”

Did they say “evolution”? Twice in one paragraph? It’s like we’re all Kim Yo Jong giving Mike Pence the “deadly side-eye”. But the best part is that the “beta program” just happens to be the “evolution and growth of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.” Because if there’s anything not getting enough computer processing attention, it’s blockchain technology.

[Editor’s note to our publisher: Can we use our site to mine cryptocurrencies, too? If Salon can—and they care about stuff, dammit!—why can’t we?]

Then there’s this bit of gold toward the bottom:

“However, the possibilities for this sort of technology are limitless: 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 .” [Extra space after period included, perhaps for emphasis.]

Sure, there are even cryptocurrencies like CureCoin, which mine by folding proteins rather than wasteful proof-of-work problems. However, those coins aren’t trading nearly as high as, say, bitcoin. We’ll let readers guess what cryptocurrencies are being mined here. It turns out they’re mining Monero using the Coinhive app.

Interestingly, Salon is a partner with environmental news site, Grist. That’s the same publication that made splash in the cryptocurrency world by publishing a scathing piece charging that bitcoin miners are on the verge of wrecking the planet (“Bitcoin could cost us our clean-energy future”). That widely-shared story noted that bitcoin mining is using more energy than many countries.

Salon never took that Grist story to host on its own site. It did, however, publish a piece in early January titled, “It’s not too late to invest in cryptocurrency”. Since it came out, bitcoin has plunged by about 50 percent.

Oh, and one more thing. If anyone from Salon is reading this, there’s a glaring spelling error in the FAQ.

Salon's FAQ error

Dear Salon: Please fix this.

It’s clear this whole thing was so exciting that the FAQ just had to be posted without a copy editor.

Lawrence Lewitinn, CFA is editor in chief of Modern Consensus. Disclosure: Lewitinn owns no cryptocurrencies in his portfolio.