A New Way to Pay:
Computing Power Instead of Personal Data

by Mario Kaiser
updated February 17, 2020
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Advertisements and personal data don't have to be the only way to pay for services on the internet, trading computing power for "free" services is a much better deal and will make the internet a better place.

The currency of the internet are advertisements and personal data, which in turn allows marketers to employ ads more efficiently. For a long time, this was more or less the only way to monetize services on the web. Advertisements and personal data have shaped the internet and the way we consume information. We have created an internet where users are used to "free" services and where companies optimize their services to sell as many ads as possible.

This has also transformed the media, where nowadays the focus is on quantity rather than on quality: it's all about the pageview, the click, the catchy headline – and wether the article contains any useful information or even the truth, is secondary at best. Once you've clicked a page, you've been served ads and earned money for the page. Ryan Holiday wrote a very insightful book on this modern media landscape called "Trust Me, I'm Lying", which I heartily recommend. Oh and did I mention the dystopian dangers that the ubiquitous collection of personal data pose to us and our societies?

We're living in the information age and have access to more information than ever before, and yet facts and the truth seem to matter surprisingly little. But it makes sense: if quantity earns more money than quality, you can't blame outlets to focus on quantity.

But that doesn't have to be the case: there are alternatives to ads and personal data. There's another way to pay for "free" services, and you're currently using it to read this post. It's your device, which can quite easily be used to generate revenue. Cryptocurrencies for example work with processing power: by solving mathematical calculations, you confirm transactions in the network, for which you get small amounts of the currency. Computing power means money. So instead of serving you ads, a blog could include a script on the page, which will mine some cryptocurrency while you read an article, without you even noticing that you've "paid" for it.

As a user, I think that would be a definitive improvement to being slapped in the face with ads and having to navigate an article artificially spread across three pages only to generate more pageviews for the outlet. And apart from the user experience: computing power can't be used against me, as opposed to my personal data.

In my opinion, trading processing power for services instead of ads and personal data is a win-win scenario. Companies are allowed to earn money and optimize their services to do so, but in a way that's leading to a focus on quality rather than quantity: because the longer you're staying on a page or using a service, the longer you'll be providing your processing power. And the best thing about it: it's possible today. If you have a service you're currently monetizing with ads or if you're thinking about building one, think about using a JavaScript miner instead.

I cannot imagine an internet without ads. But I can definitely imagine an internet where providing a good user experience and focusing on quality and the truth are equally lucrative as ads are today.

UPDATE: I have recently tried to implement a JavaScript miner in a hobby project of mine; turns out it is very hard nowadays to find a service which doesn't reek of shady business. In fact I couldn't find a single service which I deemed trustworthy. The ones I did find were gone or going out of business, so the bright picture I painted above might be a bit darker in reality after all. That doesn't mean I don't like the idea anymore; but implementing it today might be harder than anticipated.