Change Edition

Turning online “likes” into cash

Turning online “likes” into cash

2 min. 18.05.2015 From our online archive
With many internet users reacting in horror to the suggestion that they should pay for content - be it news, games or entertainment - the University of Luxembourg has come up with a novel idea on how to generate cash online.

by Stephen Evans

Who is willing to pay for news these days? The habit of buying the daily paper is dying out because so much text and video is free online. Yet shouldn't those who create interesting, informative and entertaining content expect a reward? And if no money is coming in for journalism, who is going to sniff out malpractice and hold the powerful to account? The University of Luxembourg may have found an answer.

A real psychological barrier has evolved online, with many users reacting in horror to the suggestion that they should pay to read an article, play a game or listen to a song. Even with easy to use payment systems like PayPal, people baulk at even contributing a few cents as payback for insight or entertainment. The University has identified a secure, anonymous way to get around this, enabling readers, viewers and gamers to pay for online content without them having to make a cash payment. “Any website could participate, whether they are a news site, a blog, a video streaming service, a gaming site, or social media,” remarked Alex Biryukov, Professor of Computer Science.

His idea goes as follows. Every time someone “likes” or comments online they could also chose to donate a small amount of their PC's spare computing power. Several IT firms are willing to pay to use this, most notably virtual currencies of which the most famous is Bitcoin. There are now thousands of virtual currencies and each need substantial computer power to maintain their online accounting books. They pay for this service in virtual currency which can then be converted into standard euros, dollars, renminbi, rupees... Authors, artists, game creators and so on could then be paid.

'Important source of revenue'

Prof Biyukov says that even donating 10 to 20 percent of your computing power would not adversely affecting a PC's performance. Modern PCs have several processing cores which are frequently idle during normal use. The only cost to the user would be a slight increase in electricity use to power the extra processing, but this would be a negligible sum.

The major breakthrough from the University is a system to make this process completely anonymous and secure. This would prevent users being open to identification or hacking. After liking the text, the virtual currency operator would borrow some computing power for several minutes and would then issue a virtual, secure, encrypted receipt. This receipt would be sent automatically and anonymously to the content provider who could then redeem these receipts for virtual and then “real” cash.

“Each transaction would only be a micro-payment of a fraction of a cent, but this could become an important source of revenue for very popular content providers,” noted Prof Biryukov, a specialist in cryptology and the security of information systems. To encourage more cash-generating likes, the content provider might chose to offer additional services or content for loyal users. “This new method could be potentially revolutionary since it can be done in a perfectly secure and private manner without the bother of making a standard money transfer.”

These are early days, as this is just the first theoretical discovery. But if put into practice it could be a game changer and give all kinds of online content providers the financial boost their popularity deserves.

The finding were published in “Proof-of-Work as Anonymous Micropayment: Rewarding a Tor Relay” by Alex Biryukov and Ivan Pustogarov. For more details seehere.