Bitcoin is hardly democratic, a reader argues

December 15, 2013

(Photo by btckeychain)

At The Switch, we love hearing from our readers. That's why, every weekend, we highlight a few of the most thoughtful comments the community's left us over the past seven days.

When Timothy Lee interviewed a Boston University finance expert who predicts a looming crash in Bitcoin prices, reader Blaqfather pointed out that obtaining new bitcoins — by a process called mining — is theoretically democratic but now actually has a rather high barrier to entry:

Bitcoins started at less than one cent each. At that time, mining was practical for the common user -- and some Litecoin mining is still practical today -- but almost nobody used their lap tops, for fear of burning out their CPU. Special mining equipment was needed. It's not a democratic process, and has more to do with social concepts than anything else.

On Wednesday, AT&T announced a new set of Internet rate plans for its fiber optic service in Austin that charged customers a lower price if they agreed to be tracked for advertising purposes in exchange. All else being equal, the price difference amounts to what AT&T thinks your privacy is worth — about $350 a year, to be exact. Reader JimB210 wrote:

Isn't this near what most internet companies are already doing? There's a slow creep-in of this kind of thing. I'm not too old, and I can remember when movies only had previews, then the movie. Until then you got either the curtain, or a few slides... usually urging you to get popcorn or candy. Now there's 20-30 minutes of essentially solid commercials and promo videos prior the the previews. I usually take a book to read while attempting to ignore the intrusion. I would pay $1 more to get the movie without all the garbage before, but we aren't given that choice. Were I to get AT&T's service, I think I'd pay the extra; there's enough involuntary invasion of privacy on the internet already, and AT&T seems almost eager to roll over for the NSA as well.

Major news sites don't encrypt what their visitors are reading, which could give away details on the audience's interests. When Andrea Peterson wrote about that Wednesday, reader Ice Ice Davey called the Post out for being among those that don't use SSL.

"At the Post, it isn't even implemented properly: try putting an https in front of this story's URL and see the certificate error that results."

In our defense, ThunderCougarFalconBird responded:

This is because the Washington Post uses Akamai to aggregate it's pages in order to handle geographical load. Content from the Washington Post is distributed to Akamai servers scattered throughout the world so that Akamai can deliver the content to the user from a server that is closer to where the user is located. (most large organizations use Akamai to do this) This speeds up delivery of web content. This is particularly noticible for heavy media types like video and images. In order to fix this, they would need to purchase from Akamai the plan that allows them to hand off the SSL session credentials to Akamai in order to maintain the session state. Not cheap at all!

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung | December 15, 2013