Distributed Pool Mining and Digital Inequalities, From Cryptocurrency to Scientific Research

Hanna M Kreitem, Massimo Ragnedda

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This paper aims to look at shifts in internet-related content and services economies, from audience labour economies to Web 2.0 user-generated content, and the emerging model of user computing power utilisation, powered by blockchain technologies. The authors look at and test three models of user computing power utilisation based on distributed computing (Coinhive, Cryptotab and Gridcoin) two of which use cryptocurrency mining through distributed pool mining techniques, while the third is based on distributed computing of calculations for scientific research. The three models promise benefits to their users, which the authors discuss throughout the paper, studying how they interplay with the three levels of the digital divide.

The goal of this article is twofold as follows: first to discuss how using the mining hype may reduce digital inequalities, and secondly to demonstrate how these services offer a new business model based on value rewarding in exchange for computational power, which would allow more online opportunities for people, and thus reduce digital inequalities. Finally, this contribution discusses and proposes a method for a fair revenue model for content and online service providers that uses user device computing resources or computational power, rather than their data and attention. The method is represented by a model that allows for consensual use of user computing resources in exchange for accessing content and using software tools and services, acting essentially as an alternative online business model.

Allowing users to convert their devices’ computational power into value, whether through access to services or content or receiving cryptocurrency and payments in return for providing services or content or direct computational powers, contributes to bridging digital divides, even at fairly small levels. Secondly, the advent of blockchain technologies is shifting power relations between end-users and content developers and service providers and is a necessity for the decentralisation of internet and internet services.

The article studies the effect of services that rely on distributed computing and mining on digital inequalities, by looking at three different case studies – Coinhive, Gridcoin and Cryptotab – that promise to provide value in return for using computing resources. The article discusses how these services may reduce digital inequalities by affecting the three levels of the digital divide, namely, access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) (first level), skills and motivations in using ICTs (second level) and capacities in using ICTs to get concrete benefits (third level).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-355
JournalJournal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020


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