Salon Asks Users to Mine Cryptocurrency in Exchange for Ad-Free Site

Ads are the unfortunate reality of the free and open internet — websites have bills to pay, and users have been more tolerant of ads than paid subscriptions. News website Salon has been nagging visitors about ad blockers for a while, but now it’s giving some people an alternative. Simply opt into the new “Suppress Ads” feature and browse ad-free. The catch: your device’s CPU will be harnessed to mine cryptocurrency.

We’ve seen websites running crypto mining plugins like Coinhive before, but it’s usually done in a profoundly shady way. You just show up at a website and your CPU usage skyrockets as the site tries to crunch as many numbers as possible on your hardware before you close the tab. People have also built ads and even WordPress plugins that can mine cryptocurrency.

In contrast, Salon isn’t hiding the presence of its mining operation. When the site detects you’re using an ad blocker, it offers the option of either turning it off or opting into Suppress Ads; or at least it will eventually. The feature is still just a beta that won’t show up for everyone. There’s a whole FAQ that covers the new Suppress Ads option, and it adequately explains what you as a user can expect. However, Salon makes the mining operation sound much nobler than it really is.

According to the FAQ, Salon will leverage your “unused processing power” only when you’re browsing its site. Close the tab, and mining stops. You won’t see any ads when opted into this feature, but the opt-in only lasts 24 hours. At that point, you need to confirm again. It’s a completely reasonable way for a website to mine crypto.

Things go a little off the rails when Salon tries to explain what it’s doing with your processing power. People who are familiar with how cryptocurrency mining works understand that Salon is making money from your hardware, but the page seems intentionally evasive. It talks about supporting “the evolution and growth of blockchain technology,” and veers into a discussion of distributed computing aiding medical and space research (eg. Folding@Home and SETI@Home). To be clear: Salon is just mining crypto to replace ad revenue.

Many users will probably see this as a reasonable tradeoff. You use a little more electricity while browsing Salon, but there are no ads, and you can support the creation of content. However, Salon needs to be honest with users — this is not a noble pursuit to cure cancer or find aliens. It’s about money.

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