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How to stop people from mining cryptocurrency on your computer

(FINANCE) Cryptocurrency vampires are among us! They are also nowhere near as cool as they sound. Here’s how to stop sites from jacking your processor cycles when they shouldn’t.

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Cryptocurrency! It is a thing. At the moment, that’s about all that can be said on the subject of Bitcoin and pals. With the current boom and/or bubble in Bitcoin, any statement on cryptocurrency beyond “it exists” is doomed to the depths of grinding, pedantic Internet debate, plus the occasional crazy person shouting about it being a) our salvation; b) the downfall of the West; c) both.

Which sucks, because there’s something you need to know if you’re involved with web design, cryptocurrency, or just don’t like strangers futzing with your things. Hackers can swipe your computer’s processing power to mine cryptocurrency without your knowledge or consent.

By itself, cryptocurrency mining isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s a necessary thing. Blockchains are distributed: they get the processing power they need to function from any available computers on their chains. As an incentive to keep processor cycles available, the computer that completes a given task receives a small bonus in the blockchain currency. “Mining” just means going out of your way to be that computer, typically by having as much processing power available as possible.

But in the glorious Age of the Cloud (which, protip, may not last much longer) “processing power” doesn’t always mean “giant wheezing plastic rectangle.” Finding novel sources for those sweet, sweet processor cycles is proving to be a smart way for lots of folks to monetize. Popular websites, for instance (we wrote about a rather notorious one) have already incorporated in-browser mining scripts into their business model. Their offer is that, instead of suffering through ads or big sad-eyed donation requests, users will be able to proffer a few otherwise unused processor cycles for cryptocurrency mining for as long as they’re on the page.

Alas and as always, clever ideas don’t only work for nice people. The black hat is here, and as ever, it will fill your digital life with fail.

Per Lifehacker, malicious miner scripts are becoming distressingly common. WIRED calls it “cryptojacking,” nefarious instructions added to the source code of websites without the owner’s knowledge, in order to harvest cryptocurrency on the backs of users. No informed consent, no warm glow in the knowledge that you’re both helping your favorite website and skipping your least favorite algorithmically generated YouTube ad. Just some gross code you can’t see, taking irritating little bites out of your computing experience. Grats, black hats: you’ve digitally recreated bedbugs.

Thankfully, they’re not even good bedbugs. Real bedbugs are nuke-it-from-orbit hard to kill. These things are pushovers. Fixes are plentiful and simple. A free adblocker like Adblock Plus automatically disables Javascript, where most of the nasties live. If you want to get more hands-on, new extension NoCoin lets you curate a list of sites you do and don’t allow to bum a few cycles for crypto mining.

To some degree, cryptojacking is yet another instance of the price of progress. In-browser miners show real promise as a new way to monetize web content, which is, to say the least, a fraught process at the moment. The fact that sketchy people want to steal money with it is, in its horrible way, a vote of confidence in in-browser mining and cryptocurrency generally. Thieves go where the money is, after all.

But one thing is sure – they are things. People like to have things, particularly when they’ve paid money for them. On that non-contentious point, I have terrifying news – oh my God(s) you guys people are taking your things.

Well. Sort of. They’re using your computer to mine cryptocurrency without your permission.

Before we get into it, I have a brief complaint to register. I was a 90s kid. I never got my jetpack or flying car, but I’m kind of OK with that. I’d just crash and die anyway. But I was promised better hackers.

These guys aren’t precisely stealing from you. What they’re doing is more like sneaking into your house while you sleep, booting up your computer, then just going nuts on Excel for 10 hours straight.

Here’s the deal.

People are making things like the things you have, and they’re doing it without permission. Cryptocurrency mining, whatever you may have heard to the contrary, is not in itself A Bad Thing. It’s just A Thing, a necessary component of blockchain technology: the necessary processing power gets distributed among interested parties. A few processor cycles here, a few there, and the ledger is sustainable.

That’s all “cryptocurrency mining” is: using multiple processors on a network to do the computing tasks necessary to maintain a cryptocurrency. “Cryptocurrency miners,” usually just “miners,” are people or organization who commit serious processing power to the cause.

So remember – if you don’t want sites using your computer power to earn cryptocurrency for themselves, get in on adblockers and NoCoin. Even though it’s really not a big deal (unlike my lack of a jetpack – I lied, I care).

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

Business Finance

Personal finance steps every freelancer must take to avoid ruin

(FINANCE) The government shutdown showcased financial instability, but what do people that have no paycheck guarantee need to do to be secure?

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In light of the recent government shutdown, there has been a lot of attention in regards to how missing paychecks impacts the average American. Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay.

While things look positive for the backpay of those government workers, we all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.

Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.

Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.

Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.

If this is you – here a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.  

  • Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have too, and remember this an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
  • Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
  • Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
  • Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
  • Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
  • Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving); or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.

The path to entrepreneurship is rough. What we can learn from the very struggles of the federal employees and the government shutdown is that if the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on our toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more).

Disclaimer: I am neither a tax or investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.

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Business Finance

Delivery startups skim customer tips to pay employees #wth

(FINANCE) Grocery delivery startups are flourishing, but stealing from employees isn’t a sustainable move…

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Popular grocery app Instacart has been using customers’ tips to pay its guaranteed $10/hour rate to employees, rather than using the tips as, you know, bonus money paid to workers on top of their normal pay. The way that you’d expect something called a “tip” to work.

According to the report, “Instacart confirmed that when its payment algorithm determines a driver should be paid below that guaranteed $10, the company uses the customer’s predelivery, ‘up front’ tip to cover the difference. The ‘up front’ tip is automatically set to 5% on the Instacart app; if the customer removes the tip, and the payout would be below $10, Instacart itself covers the cost.”

In this system, the customer’s tip for the deliverer subsidizes the company’s commitment to its employees. Once the change to the tipping policy was announced in workers began complaining about how it affected their earnings in 2017.

Even though the app’s customers have taken to social media to compare the policy to wage theft, the practice is actually legal. Because Instacart and other apps in the gig economy classify their workers as contractors instead of employees, they do technically still get 100 percent of the tips in their wages (even if the company doesn’t supply the same percentage of the wage they’d give the worker without the customer throwing in).

This kind of payment structure may be familiar to you if you’ve ever working in restaurants, bars, or another establishment that uses subminimum wages.

Sadly, Instacart is not the only grocery app that uses a dodgy tipping system. Shipt, DoorDash, and others have similar tipping policies. And they aren’t interested in changing them after all this week’s backlash.

If you’re concerned about making sure that you’re supporting the contractors for these grocery delivery services, some of the contracted workers have requested that you provide the tip in cash instead of tipping through the app and activating its algorithm.

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Tech News

How blockchain has the power to improve democracies

(TECH) Blockchain is changing the face of democracy with a magical fix to basically all the problems.

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Despite our best intentions to be active, informed citizens in democratic practices, not everyone has time, figuring out how to be engaged can be confusing, and reps don’t always vote how you want. Plus, confidence in Congress is hilariously/depressingly low with all the scandals and thinly veiled corporate interests.

Well hooray for the future, because now we have blockchain technology to propel us out of the murky waters of representative democracy and into a more efficient liquid democracy.

A liquid democracy platform, also referred to as delegative democracy, has voters select a personal representative as a proxy for their vote. In our current set up, elected representatives vote for things on your behalf, and the best you can do other than running for office yourself is call in and ask them to vote your way.

With a liquid democracy, everyone votes on each piece of legislation.

You can assign a delegate to vote on your behalf by proxy when you’re not available. Personal representatives can be removed and reassigned at any time unlike set terms for elected officials.

The delegate can even select a proxy for their votes, creating a directed network graph, where voters and politicians are connected on a publicly verified blockchain. Anyone can be selected as a delegate as long as they’re a legal resident of your jurisdiction registered to vote.

Quick refresher course: Blockchain is essentially a decentralized digital list of records with timestamps and transaction data information. Each individual record is considered a block, which is cryptographically secured and resistant to modification.

Blocks contain a cryptographic hash of the previous block, creating a chain. Once recorded, data cannot be altered without network majority consent. As an open, peer-to-peer distributed ledger, blockchain is a permanent and efficient way to record transactions.

Used by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 for cryptocurrency exchange to create Bitcoin, blockchain has now expanded to the healthcare industry, banking, and now potentially democratic practices.

David Ernst, one of the leaders of the liquid democracy movement, founded United.vote, a platform established to get the ball rolling. The site helps connect voters to personal representatives, and provides a scorecard that tracks how elected politicians’ votes compare to constituents wishes.

“What if instead centralizing authority into the hands of a few strong men, we expanded political power to many, many more voices,” Ernst suggested at the 2017 CyFy conference.

His plan to expand power is liquid democracy via the United.vote platform, which he notes is backwards-compatible with our current system. Ernst is also running as an independent candidate for California Assembly District 19.

He was partially inspired by the Flux Party’s 2016 campaign in Australia, who tried to implement an issue-based direct democracy similar to liquid democracy. Although the party only got 0.15 percent of the vote nationwide, Ernst stands by the idea.

A liquid democracy via blockchain would theoretically increase accountability, participation, and representation.

Through direct participation and personal representation, elections would no longer be necessary.

Instead, voters simply choose someone to represent them, and can select a different person for individual issues. Delegation can be changed at any time, so you’re not stuck with someone if they end up being a total weasel.

So far, only a little over one thousand people have signed up for United.vote, but Ernst stated, “If I got elected, but only 20 people were actually using [the platform], I would still follow those people.”

Although the concept may be ahead of its time (and possibly a wishful Utopian dream), Ernst is confident that these changes can fix democracy.

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