Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Coinhive: In-Browser CPU Mining As A Replacement For Ads?

Yesterday I came across an article at Coindesk about in-browser mining that is activated when you visit a website. However, unlike the sneaky, malicious varieties you may have heard of, background miners that activate without your knowledge, follow you all across the web, and suck up as much processing power as possible, this one tells you that it's there, stops working once you leave the site where it's hosted, and politely gets out of your way when you need more of your CPU's power.

It was created and is operated by Coinhive.

The article, entitled, "Salon Offers Readers Choice Between Ads and Mining Monero," describes how the online publication, Salon, integrated this system into their website to lower their dependence on advertising for revenue.

The miner, which is embedded in the website via a simple javascript code, activates when a reader visits the site and consents to allowing it to operate during the session. It only uses what CPU power the reader does not need (for example, if you open another browser tab to cross-reference something you're reading, it will lower how much processing time it is using to get out of your way), and it shuts down once you leave the site. (I've verified that it really does. while watching my task manager, I saw that the processing being consumed by my browser dropped as soon as I closed the tab I had my blog opened in. I didn't have to close the browser completely, just the one tab!)

I decided to try it out here, which is why you saw that pop-up asking if you would consent to allowing the Coinhive miner to run while you're reading this blog. If you agreed, then as you're reading this, the miner is earning me a tiny bit of Monero, the crypto that it is designated to mine.

Personally, I get very annoyed by the advertising on websites these days, especially the trend of interrupting a reader with pop-up advertising (sometimes more than once!). I think this method of generating revenue for a site is a nice, long overdue alternative.

Of course, the pop-up could be alarming to people who do not recognize it (I'm going to try and install a "what is this?" permalink somewhere near the top of the blog to help counter that). At first when I plugged it into the blog and tested it myself I went, "oh no... this is going to make people think my site got hacked and is hosting malware." Unfortunately, that is basically what happened to Coinhive's invention at first, that it was hijacked by bad actors. That is why there's now a pop-up that appears once per browser session that informs you of the miner's presence before it activates: the bad actors didn't want you to know it was there, while honest participants like me DO want you to know that it is there, and hopefully convince you to allow it to work while you're here (at least in part so maybe intrusive advertising can be done away with...).

So we'll see. I can tell from looking at my dashboard this morning that since last night a few of you out there did allow the miner to run. So far, so good. I'll be keeping an eye on daily site visits and how much the needle moves on this thing to see if it's worth keeping or if it's likely to chase everyone off.

What do you think? Comments are open, please leave your thoughts below!

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