Users of The Pirate Bay recently discovered that the website was testing out a cryptocurrency miner to generate revenue from users, but can enough be made to keep the website afloat without advertisements?
Free services online are faced with the constant issue of generating enough cash to support user traffic, as well as cater for operators, developers, and any other staff on-hand.
Some websites have turned to subscription services, while others have turned to advertisements -- although in recent times, the upsurge in ad-block software usage is rendering this revenue model less and less lucrative.
Few people like paywalls, adverts can be an eyesore, and the problem is still present. So when The Pirate Bay came up with the controversial idea of running a trial based on cryptocurrency mining, this raised additional questions on the future of online revenue generation.
It is not uncommon for nefarious ads containing malvertising to slip through the net, and so when some visitors to the website noticed their CPU usage suddenly reaching the high tiers without warning, alarm bells were rung.
However, the uptick in power usage was nothing to do with malware. Instead, the website admitted that the CPU usage increase was caused by an "experiment" in cryptocurrency mining.
"We really want to get rid of all the ads," the operators said. "But we also need enough money to keep the site running."
The Pirate Bay team only intended to use 20 to 30 percent of a visitor's CPU to mine the Monero cryptocurrency, but a coding error meant there was no limitation.
While you could argue users should have been warned and been able to give consent to such a practice, is it even profitable enough to work?
TorrentFreak has calculated that with an estimated 315 million visitors per month, a base visit time of five minutes and a mid-range laptop using a hashrate of 30 h/s, the use of a Coinhive miner that pays out 0.00015 Monero (XMR) per one million hashes, the website would be able to generate roughly 2,835,000 million hashes per month at full CPU pelt.
If throttled, this rate drops to 850,000 million hashes.
According to the publication, this means The Pirate Bay could earn roughly $12,000 at today's prices for Monero.
While these are rough figures which could change at any time based on Monero's trading price, whether or not the miner was embedded on all pages and whether visitors would use blocking software, this is still a calculation which gives food for thought.
Last year, a wallet used by the torrent search engine to accept user donations of Bitcoin revealed that the website was earning less than 10 dollars per day in this way -- likely nowhere near enough to operate long-term.
Unless the cash issue is tackled, pirates gaining something for nothing may be a thing of the past. However, it may be that cryptocurrency mining as an alternative to ads could appeal. After all, file seeders give up their bandwidth to give files to downloaders, and it is this community which keeps all torrenting -- whether legal or illegal -- alive and kicking.
There may not be an issue in giving up some computational power in exchange for finding torrent files in the first place, especially as this kind of "donation" would not appear on a credit card statement.
In related news, a Dutch court has ordered ISPs Ziggo and XS4ALL to block The Pirate Bay within the next ten days.