In Brief
The Pirate Bay and the Showtime streaming service have been caught using viewers' systems to mine cryptocurrency without their permission. If adopted more widely, this practice could be a viable revenue alternative to onsite advertising.

Mining Money

A significant portion of internet users don’t like seeing ads. To avoid these sometimes distracting pop-ups and banners, they may install ad-blockers on their browser or turn exclusively to ad-free sites. Meanwhile, advertisers are spending larger and larger portions of their ad budgets with big online players like Google and Facebook. This is causing internet ad revenues to plummet for sites that may rely on that money to stay afloat.

Privacy and the Internet of Things
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Now, BitTorrent search engine The Pirate Bay and the Showtime streaming service have been caught monetizing their online visitors another way: by using their systems to mine cryptocurrency.

Both sites were found to be sending mining code to users’ computers, and both have now stopped this practice.

The Pirate Bay acknowledged the situation, claiming that it was simply a test. “We really want to get rid of all the ads,” read a statement published by The Pirate Bay. “But we also need enough money to keep the site running.” Showtime, meanwhile, has yet to respond to questions.

Selling Your System

Using visitors’ systems to mine cryptocurrency would provide a potent new revenue stream for sites and services, but whether users would agree to it is another question entirely.

When a site uses a visitor’s computer to mine cryptocurrency, they take up a portion of the system’s resources. At its least intrusive, this practice might cause the system to run a bit slower. In an extreme scenario, it could tear through the battery of a portable device or even inflate a home’s electric bill.

The biggest problem with this particular discovery is that neither The Pirate Bay nor Showtime warned users in advance about their plans. While some users might agree to give up a bit of processing power in exchange for an ad-free experience, most would likely agree that running code on someone’s system without their permission is rather dishonest.

If users don’t agree to the practice, it doesn’t stand much of a chance of gaining traction as a new revenue source for sites — a standard ad blocker will impede mining code just as easily as it blots out ad content.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.