Opinion: Razer’s cryptocurrency mining scheme is utterly unethical
At least cryptojacking malware is indiscriminate. But Razer's crypto scheme seems to target children.
Cryptocurrency mining has been blamed for many of the world's ills in recent months. Its energy consumption has been taken to task with hysterical studies of dubious veracity, and cryptojacking, the act of using malware to hijack someone's computing power without their knowledge, has been hailed as the next big malware scourge.
In this kind of field, it takes some serious effort to produce something even less ethical than cryptojacking. Yet, Razer might have managed with its new SoftMiner, and the help of partner GammaNow, with a crypto mining scheme that seems to specifically target children, gathering a slew of information in the process.
The incomplete story
Razer, a manufacturer of gaming-oriented hardware and peripherals, has kicked off its own cryptocurrency mining scheme, designed to encourage people to start mining cryptocurrency on their computers.
"Get rewarded with Razer Silver for being AFK," it says.
"Simply launch Razer SoftMiner on your PC and let it do the heavy work... For the best mining experience, switch on Auto Mode and mine with an unlimited internet connection," Razer suggests.
But Razer Silver isn't a cryptocurrency. It's just the pay chit for Razer miners, redeemable for Razer products only. Razer never touches the cryptocurrency either. Instead it gets paid by its own third party, an outfit called GammaNow, for the crypto its users mine.
Winners and losers
Not entirely unlike the rest of its product line, the value of Razer's involvement here might be primarily as a pretty face and prominent brand name. Neither you nor Razer actually touch any cryptocurrency, as explained to VICE.
- You mine cryptocurrency on their computer. This cryptocurrency goes directly to GammaNow.
- GammaNow pays Razer with real money for the cryptocurrency its users are mining.
- GammaNow pays you with Razer Silver for the cryptocurrency you mine. This Razer Silver was purchased from Razer by GammaNow.
Intuitively, one might immediately conclude that this is going to be less profitable than simply mining cryptocurrency directly, because the mined cryptocurrency is obviously worth more than the equivalent Razer Silver earnings. If it wasn't, there would be no point in Razer and GammaNow doing any of this.
So how much are you actually getting? It's clear that Razer Silver has to be worth less than whichever cryptocurrencies GammaNow is mining through your computer.
Twitterer Scott Chicken ran the numbers, and found them very much wanting.
The second tweet there, regarding the 12 month expiry of Silver earned by mining, is quite relevant given the prices of most things in the Razer Silver store. With maximum "earnings" of about 500 Razer Silver per day, it's unlikely that anyone will be able to get anything meaningful out of their mining.
And by the looks of it, there's almost no feasible way that this could ever earn more than it costs. Cryptocurrency mining isn't free money. It degrades hardware with constant use, and consumes a lot of electricity. The person doing the mining – or more likely their parents in this case – will have to foot an electricity bill greater than the value of Silver earned.
For some perspective, the energy costs involved mean mining cryptocurrency with a GPU will almost always cost more than it earns at any given time. The only way to make it work, then, might be to outsource the bill to someone unsuspecting – someone who won't notice the energy consumption or hardware degradation involved.
To be crystal clear: the Razer SoftMiner costs money to use. The actual value of the Razer Silver earned may vary depending on what it's redeemed for in the end, but it's reasonable to believe that there is not a single situation where installing and running the Razer SoftMiner is a good idea.
The sheer and incredibly obvious fiscal irrationality of actually using the Razer SoftMiner strongly suggests that it's targeted at children, either deliberately or not.
Cryptojacking isn't ethical either, but at least it's indiscriminate, and at least that particular unwanted interaction starts and ends with you mining cryptocurrency for someone else.
However, Razer is specifically targeting children for cryptourrency mining, and throwing in several other twists that make it all that much worse. It collects your personal information along the way. The rewards it dribbles in front of its unsuspecting users are practically unredeemable. To even check your Razer Silver balance you have to upgrade to the "Razer Gold" account. And once you trash your hardware by crypto mining at pennies on the dollar, Razer undoubtedly wants to be the one to help you replace it.
Note: Nothing in this piece is intended to suggest that GammaNow or Razer are deliberately targeting children with malicious mining programs. It's merely intended to encourage people to think about unintended consequences, and the ideals of corporate social responsibility.