Skip to main content No Longer Lets You Read Stories for Free – Wants to Use Ad-Blocking Readers' CPUs to Mine Bitcoin

In what is almost an ironic twist on the material cost of online advertising, Salon now wants readers who run security extensions, err, block ads, to lend Salon their CPUs so that the publisher can mine cryptocurrency.

If you visit the Salon website today, you will be presented with three options: disable your security, allow them to siphon your CPU cycles, or leave.

From TNW:

It seems popular online magazine Salon is the latest company to hop onto the cryptocurrency mining bandwagon. The publication has updated its website to require users to disable their ad-blockers for the right to read articles – or alternatively, lend their CPU power to mine cryptocurrency.

Visitors are now prompted to either turn off ad-blockers altogether or select the new ‘Suppress Ads’ option to “block ads by allowing Salon to use your unused computing power.”

According to a clarification on its website, opting to lend your “unused processing power” will only happen “when you are browsing” The other options are to switch ad-blockers off, or pay for their ad-free apps on iTunesGoogle Play, and Amazon Fire.

In-browser cryptocurrency mining is hot right now. The Pirate Bay was caught surreptitiously using visitors web browsers for that purpose, and there is even an API called Coinhive that can be integrated into websites, mobile apps, and other software.

It’s not clear how Salon built their miner code – they may even have used Coinhive. What is clear is that Salon will no longer let visitors read the news for free any more.

That is a development that everyone should have seen coming; as ads got more resource-taxing and dangerous, more people started using ad-blockers. It is a vicious cycle that could not end well.

If nothing else, the cost of displaying online ads was just too high for too many users.

The simple truth is that online advertising costs battery life, bandwidth, and CPU cycles. It is why most claims that the news is published online for free is simply not true – it’s like giving someone a print book for"free", and then expecting them to pay you for the paper and ink. (Salon even repeats this fiction in the pop-up and in their FAQ.)

In this situations, no matter whether a reader disables their security or allows Salon to mine cryptocurrency, the reader is still going to pay somehow.

It almost makes you wish for paywalls, doesn’t it?

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M Evans February 13, 2018 um 10:34 am

I use Chrome with both AdBlockPlus and ScriptSafe extensions enabled. Since no JS runs, I can browse and read Salon without issue.

Nate Hoffelder February 13, 2018 um 10:46 am

Thanks! I need to add that second extension.

Frank February 13, 2018 um 10:57 am

Salon’s ad blocker can be bypassed by loading the page and then clicking a browser’s Reader View.

For the future, if indeed the extra CPU cycles use is only do when someone is viewing and stops once those pages are closed, that may be fair. I would need to some analysis from a 3rd party before opting in.

BDR February 13, 2018 um 11:34 am

The Chrome extensions No Coin and Miner Blocker will keep websites from stealing your CPU power. Ad Guard will also block mining.

When I visited Salon & selected the option to allow it (with these installed), Ad Guard immediately blocked it. Salon THEN tried to get me to OK it (again) with a "press OK" dialog box, this time saying they want to "collect information". I refused and it blocked me from entering.

Crossing Salon off my list of sites to visit; they’re dead to me now.

ZDR February 13, 2018 um 11:45 am

Cant get something for nothing. It costs Salon money to write the content you assume is "free". I guess it’s fair that they try to stay in business for your free reading pleasure, no? Maybe they should just have people pay in cold hard cash like other sites are doing with paywalls?

Nate Hoffelder February 14, 2018 um 10:35 am

Or maybe they should find a revenue source that isn’t so toxic?

Mackay Bell February 14, 2018 um 4:41 pm

Or write content people are willing to pay for. I’ve never read anything on Salon that I would pay for. People have it backwards, eyeballs watching what you do are valuable. The problem is that Salon doesn’t get enough eyeballs to pay for all the overhead they have. They simply aren’t creating content valuable enough for the few eyeballs they get. They are focused on pushing their own political agenda and providing a platform for the kind of content they like, not what large numbers of people necessarily want to read (let alone pay for). Their audience is mainly people who are killing time and willing to flip through their free stuff. They will never be able to monetize it enough for their huge overhead.

At this point, the evidence is clear about how to use the Internet to generate money. There are people in their basement making You Tube videos that generate millions for them (like the kid who reviews toys or the girl with makeup tips) because they appeal to a mass audience so big they get a ton of views (even if the money per view is tiny). On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who create daring original content that people are willing to support directly with cash payments on Patreon. Salon’s primary problem is that has too much overhead and boring middle of the road content.

Nate Hoffelder February 14, 2018 um 6:22 pm

See, that opens up a whole other can of worms – the simple fact is, many assumptions about getting people to pay are based on the pre=internet era when there were a finite number of sources for entertainment and information. In the past people paid for that content, but now we have so many sources online that a lot of the time there’s no good reason to pay for a lot of the content made today – it’s just not worth it.

M Evans February 13, 2018 um 3:18 pm

For the record, I don’t normally access Salon, I tried it this morning after reading the original post and found no issues as reported, and then realized it’s likely due to my use of default blocking of all Javascript using ScriptSafe extension (NoScript performs the same function for Firefox). My day job is development of network intrusion prevention firmware, so my personal browser configuration reflects my firm belief in good network security hygiene. It’s not painless, some sites are unusable without JS, and in that circumstance I perform a little investigation to see exactly what JS is required to enable a given site; perhaps I’ll just avoid the site. For sites I’ve verified and trust, I whitelist the use of JS. I believe it would be far better for a site to use an authenticated paywall rather than condition users to accept the execution of untrusted JS and it’s accompanying security exposures. Perhaps I’d pay if the content provides value to me, or I might choose to avoid the site if the value proposition isn’t clear.

Xavier Basora February 14, 2018 um 2:14 am


You’re assuming that paywalls imply good quality writing. I seriously doubt that especially in Salon’s case. No matter. I haven’t visited Salon in years and this will only encourage me to fork and replace with other sites I wouldn’t mind supporting » Bezahlen mit CPU-Zyklen? testet Krypto-Mining im Browser als Alternative zu Online-Ads February 14, 2018 um 5:22 am

[…] (via TNW & The Digital Reader) […]

Paul W February 14, 2018 um 7:44 am

I will keep this information in mind when I need to test anti-mining extensions and ipsets.

If a publisher thinks ads and mining are not likely to be abused, why don’t they host all the scripting on their own site and thus take full responsibility for the results? After all, most blocking extensions will allow the domain that the reader is trying to access.

Nate Hoffelder February 14, 2018 um 10:35 am

There’s lot of money in those tracking scripts, and it takes a lot of technical work to run an ad network. It’s just easier for web publishers to let other companies take care of it, and collect their cut.

Frank February 14, 2018 um 10:51 am

A second pop-up says that Salon is indeed using Coinhive. Coinhive mines the Monero crypto currency.

The danger in this plan is if the mining scripts run on PCs for extended periods of time will consume considerable amounts of electricity and use up network bandwidth. It is possible on Android phones for the miner to physically damage the phone if it leaves the phone mining for too long.

Michael February 14, 2018 um 10:59 am

I think it’s good that they’re giving us the option. Although I usually whitelist most sites.

Allen F February 15, 2018 um 3:01 pm

I’ll let them send me ads when they agree in writing to pay for the cleaning/removing of any third-party junk those ads might try loading …

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