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posted by Dopefish on Monday February 17 2014, @02:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the government-should-mind-their-own-business dept.
mattie_p writes "MIT students won a hackathon last November with a non-functioning demo of Tidbit. The concept is to replace web advertising revenue with a tiny amount of Bitcoin mining on the user's browser. Out of the blue, the students were hit by a subpoena from the New Jersey Attorney General demanding that the founders 'turn over sensitive information including source codes, hosting websites, and all of the Bitcoin wallet addresses associated with Tidbit.'

At first MIT council referred the students to legal assistance from the EFF, who quickly came to their defense. Now there is a petition going around requesting the MIT administration support the students directly. Parallels are being drawn to Aaron Swartz, possibly because one of the authors of the recent petition is Prof. Hal Ableson, although details of the two cases have very little in common.

MIT President Reif has now come out strongly in support of the students--and in favor of academic freedom from interference by government."
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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 17 2014, @02:56PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 17 2014, @02:56PM (#752)

    Hi, same AC here (I tried to make an account but no password has been emailed yet).

    I understand the costs associated with running a website. But the issue is the hidden fee that the visitor is forced to pay, either through ads, by mining for virtual currency or by sending spam (the next logical step). It seems like a very inefficient way to make money: you provide content, but have to use a complex system to get paid for the content. Ads have to be created, electricity has to be used to mine for virtual currency, data has to be used to transfer all of this - all at the cost to the visitor. Why not just charge the visitor a fee and be done with it? Why hide the fee behind a complicated system? Do we really need a middle man - or several - to achieve this?

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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by githaron on Monday February 17 2014, @03:04PM

    by githaron (581) on Monday February 17 2014, @03:04PM (#757)

    I could see a site charging a fee as an option that disables ads and mining but not as the only option. In most cases if you create a site that has fees as its only way of membership, someone else will probably come along with a nearly equivalent "free" version that a majority of potential users will go to instead. It is a lot easier to get people to try/use something when it is "free".

  • (Score: 1) by furiousoyster on Monday February 17 2014, @03:34PM

    by furiousoyster (594) on Monday February 17 2014, @03:34PM (#774)

    You make it sound like paying a fee is less complex or cumbersome than looking at an ad or running some virtual currency mining scripts. It's not.

    • (Score: 1) by weilawei on Monday February 17 2014, @07:29PM

      by weilawei (109) on Monday February 17 2014, @07:29PM (#973)
      After factoring in the immense amount of third party support you have to rely on for payments, yes, ads and mining ARE simpler. In one case, say you use PayPal. Well, PayPay needs datacenters, they need to work with credit card companies, they need to clear transactions and chargebacks, and that's just before you integrate it into your site. Then you need to trust it won't fail, or screw you over. Any third party service comes with this caveat, and payments are a big one. See "The Cloud" for reference on how that goes.

      Ads can be served off a single host, with no interaction or legal snafus from handling customer data. Finally, bitcoin mining pushes the complexity to an individual user, with none of the issues of storing personally identifiable information. The actual volume of code to be run for mining could be far smaller than that for payments, and depending on the ad system, less than that.
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 17 2014, @07:38PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 17 2014, @07:38PM (#985)
      Perhaps you are unfamiliar with PCI-DSS regulations which require QUARTERLY independent security audits by a PCI Council "qualified independent scan vendor" if you handle personally identifiable information. Otherwise, the credit card companies will cut you off. That pretty much means anyone smaller than a large business is outsourcing their payments to someone else. That itself is a can of worms.