You Can Now Mine Cryptocurrency While Reading the News

February 13, 2018, 11:07 PM UTC

Ad-blocking software has cut a hole in the purses of media companies over the past decade. As part of its plan to combat that trend, media company Salon is jumping on the cryptocurrency bandwagon.

Starting Sunday, Salon began asking its readers that use ad-blockers to turn over spare computing power in a bid to mine a cryptocurrency known as Monero.

That comes as media companies seek alternatives to ad revenue, which have taken a hit thanks to the popularity of ad-blocking software.

“Like most media sites, ad-blockers cut deeply into our revenue and create a more one-sided relationship between reader and publisher,” Salon’s team wrote in a note addressing the new program.

“We saw a business problem, we saw a potential way out—potential being the key word—and we took it,” said Salon CEO Jordan Hoffner of the new revenue-generating plan. The mining option, which Hoffner says already has some users, is one of several ways Salon says it plans to monetize views. Another part of that plan is a paid tablet and mobile app expected to debut in coming weeks.

Ad-blocking users who visit Salon’s site will be asked to either turn off their ad-blocker, or “suppress ads.” By choosing the latter option, users can block the ads—but in return, Salon uses their processors to mine Monero with a software known as Coinhive. The mining will take place for as long as the user remains on the site.

And it’s not just Monero—eventually, the company may also try to mine more kinds of cryptocurrencies.

“The coins will change over time as the demand for whatever currency changes,” Hoffner said. “We’ll end up building a portfolio of [cryptocurrencies].”

Still, the program did illicit some raised eyebrows, as Monero has recently been associated with criminal activities.

While Monero and Coinhive may have been created for legitimate purposes, both of their reputations have taken quite the beating in recent months as hackers on the dark web make use of their respective advantages. With the rise of cryptocurrency in 2017, some criminals appeared to ditch the pseudonymous Bitcoin in favor of its more anonymous brethren like Monero. And while the idea behind Coinhive is compelling—monetizing based on visits rather than ad views—the software often makes headlines thanks to the hackers who have used it to hijack the computers of unsuspecting users in order to mine cryptocurrency.

Recently, visitors to some government websites in countries including the U.S. and U.K. fell victim to a Coinhive scheme. Similarly, a Google Chrome extension with over 100,000 users was also caught using Coinhive without consumer permission.

Hoffner, though, said he isn’t too worried about the association and thinks it’s part of the growing pains that come with new technologies.

“These things will straighten themselves out over time. I was there at the time of online video and online piracy. They straightened themselves out over time. That’s what history has suggested,” Hoffner said, noting that as these technologies have grown more popular, their uses by the criminal underworld have generally abated to some extent.

The proportion of Bitcoin transactions used for dark web activities, for example, fell from 30% to under 1% in 2017, according to Chainalysis.

Still, it’s unclear exactly how much Salon will make revenue-wise from its cryptocurrency activities. As it stands, it’s unlikely to be a significant figure. Based on Coinhive estimates, a site with one million visits of five minutes each would earn about 0.27 of the cryptocurrency a month. That’s about $64 a month at Monero’s current value of $238.

Salon posted an average of 13.1 million unique visitors a month in the final quarter of 2017—though its view figures are likely higher. Not all of those views, though, will result in Monero mining, as viewers may choose to avoid the program.

But for Hoffner, as it often is for cryptocurrency’s believers, it’s about looking into the long term.

We are earning something when we were earning nothing,” he said of ad-blocking on the website. “We just want to right now collect coins and see what happens.

And if Hoffner makes the right bet with Coinhive, he will certainly be ahead of the curve.

“Currently a lot of sites that have trouble monetizing with ads use Coinhive. This includes forums, small community sites where users happily give something back and, of course, porn sites,” a Coinhive representative said in an email. “As far as we know, Salon is the first major media firm to use our service.”