A Stance on Blockchain Browser Mining


19 October, AtoZ Markets – Through the rise of ASICs in mining, Bitcoin went out of the league for the home crypto miner. These dedicated machines, though power hungry and expensive, could calculate the required algorithms faster than any home equipment. It changed the game towards industrial players.  After that, it became pretty silent around the browser mining topic for the next years to come.

How the Idea of Blockchain Mining started

The idea of mining for blockchains on the browser is already a few years old. It began around 2011 with BitcoinPlus.com but due to problems in profitability, it was out of service after a short period. In 2013 we could see another approach by TidBit (also for Bitcoin/BTC). Struggling with legal issues on unlawful access to a person’s computer power, they ultimately closed in 2015.

Still, Proof-of-Work was and is a popular method to find consensus. Over time different blockchains with different approaches have brought mining back to the individual, supporting the idea of a true decentralization.

To pick a very few examples (no endorsement): i.e, Bitcoin Gold (BTG) a Bitcoin fork or Ethereum (ETH) as a space for decentralized apps both having GPUs become a viable option again. Another notable addition was the CryptoNote Protocol and the CryptoNight hashing algorithm that was first used by Bytecoin in 2012 and by Monero in 2014.

In contrast to Bitcoin, this algorithm is memory hard. Each computing thread requires a dedicated, comparatively large amount of memory. That would have made building ASICs for e.g. Monero complicated and expensive. Yet, it is possible to run this algorithm on an everyday machine even the CPU alone.

Of course, somebody builds a Monero-ASIC (Bitmain Antminer X3), but Monero forked and rendered these ASICs pretty useless for generating Monero (beginning of 2018). A victory for decentralization, if you will.[4]

With a Blockchain that is widely adopted and being listed on many exchanges, minable on regular hardware and an active and protective community, Monero became an excellent option to be tried for browser mining in yet another approach.

Coinhive brings Browser Mining to the mainstream

In mid-2017 we could witness first versions in the German image board programm of what would later be known as Coinhive. Like the previously mentioned web mining companies, Coinhive tries to provide a platform that website owners can use to let their visitors mine cryptocurrencies – in this case Monero.

So when mining through the browser became a more public thing end of 2017 with “The Pirate Bay” using Coinhive, it was all the rage.

With the news out and an easy solution at hand, more and more websites tried out browser mining. Some sites had user consent and clear communication; whereas some tried a more secret and dishonest approach or got hacked and served the mining code unknowingly (aka crypto jacking). We even saw the mining code in advertisings delivered by Google's DoubleClick.

And it was the dishonest group that tried to squeeze as much computing power out of the visitor. Up to a point, where the computer became slow to the user. So the technique itself got blocked by antivirus solutions, firewalls, and ad blockers. As a result, browser mining still has a perception as shady today.

Energy efficiency and knowledge barriers

Given user consent, the biggest argument against bowser mining is energy efficiency. Mining with dedicated hardware is more efficient than taking the route through the browser engine. However, considering the resources for design, production, and distribution of heavy dedicated ASICs, it doesn’t look too bad. Moreover we will see advances in code quality and CPU power. This gap should become smaller over time. Also, the technology could be used to save energy on other ends. A total energy balance of a system is not that straightforward.

The other problem is that average Joe doesn’t have a clue how to mine or how to set up a wallet. And even if so, the outcome would be tedious without getting extra hardware. You can join a pool and get a low but somewhat stable return in the area of cents per day. The alternative is to go solo mining in the hope to find the next block on your own and harvest the full block reward. Probability is low, however.

So what are the advantages of browser mining?

When looking at the idle computing capacity lying around in homes and offices, there should be no need for all these centralized mining efforts we see in industrial mining.

While reading emails or doing other not too intensive tasks on the computer, a considerable portion of the available capacity is sitting idle. The machines are there; they are already consuming power and connected to the internet. The extra energy for some mining on the side with the CPU isn’t too hard on the electricity bill.

Considering the thought of decentralization, we can say it would be favorable if more individual players can participate in the mining game. Yet it is still a long way till these resources will be leveraged and until they will be leveraged in true decentralization.

It’s not worth pursuing alone but in a group.

A single user/machine with a browser crunching numbers will be somewhere in the area of 2-3 USD per month – and only when the device is constantly running and at considerable speed.

Given the fact that it would also consume more energy in value than Monero created it remains a valid question why anybody would want to do that for personal gain.

On the other hand, if you use a little computing power, you won’t notice it on your electricity bill. Your computer will not slow down noticeably. Nobody said it’s 100% or nothing. The rewards are small for the individual, but add up when many users come together. So this is where it becomes useful.

The most common reason: Replace ads and provide alternatives to selling your private data (aka advertising) to finance the operation of websites or browser games across the globe. This time you sell your computer power for the consumption of content. Moreover your data and money stay with you. Ergo: A micropayment environment.

Another and nobler option is to donate this little surplus. You personally won’t notice, but when you team up with other internet users, it can sum up to noticeable amounts. These can then help in funding good things.

Examples of charity funding by browser mining

Towards the end of 2018, we can observe a variety of projects evolving that dedicate to this specific idea. The most notable example is probably the hopepage.org by Unicef Australia. Where the visitors computing capacity is added to the funding of Unicef Australia.

Helptab.org is a platform the author of this article is working on. It’s a project that believes in the idea of philanthropic mining. Whereas larger charities usually have fewer problems in finding funding, it’s the smaller ones that struggle for visibility and financing their vision. Helptab.org wants to change that.

These examples show that concepts exist that try to leverage existing blockchain browser mining technology to build useful things for the world. And they make this a low barrier experience for everyone.

About the Author

This article was provided by Nils, a consultant and entrepeneur in the digital playing field. He has 10+ years in experience in SEO with a focus on tech, architecture and information retrieval. Nils' passion is to play around with existing and new technology and share his insights. He likes to combine these aspect to create things that do good.

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