Paul "Ice Poseidon" Denino is one of the more notorious "real-life" streamers, whose videos largely consist of walking around, yelling, and being intentionally outrageous. Notably, Denino was banned from Twitch in April. While streaming from an airport, a fan called in a bomb threat, and suggested Denino was behind it. Part of Denino's shtick is interacting with viewers, who try to suss out his location and mess with him. (Knowingly, he'll sometimes say where he is.) But recently, Denino's been hit with criticism for something different: hiding a cryptocurrency miner in a piece of software, CxStocks, that a bunch of his fans accessed through a website.
The idea behind CxStocks was humorously meta. CxStocks would be a faux stock market where people could buy and sell stocks, based on how well liked someone was on stream. It was a funny way for the hardcore to take fandom, knowledge, and memes to another level.
The hard part of CxStocks would be kickstarting an economy, and when the beta version of CxStocks went live yesterday, people discovered a surprising solution: a cryptocurrency miner that would run in the background, while you were using CxStocks. In order to trade on CxStocks, your CPU would be leveraged to generate currency for you to trade with. The fake economy would have a stabilizing center and the creators would be making money.
CxStocks used Coinhive to accomplish this, a service in the news recently because torrenting website The Pirate Bay tried to ditch ads by embedding Coinhive. If you were using The Pirate Bay to download torrents, your CPU was used to pay for hosting and other fees associated with running The Pirate Bay. The response from users was mixed, and while many supported The Pirate Bay trying to get rid of ads, they wanted to know why their CPU use was shooting up. (The Pirate Bay did a poor job of disclosing what was going on and initially borrowed too much power.)
"We decided to use Coinhive because it solved all the problems we were facing of people cheating the economy," said Andries, the developer behind CxStocks, over email today.
There were multiple layers of problems. One, people felt tricked. Two, given how many young fans Denino has, there's reason to believe they wouldn't be aware of the risks of crypto mining. Kaspersky Labs security researcher Aleks Gostev told Motherboard recently that while user data isn't the big worry, "it does have the effect of increasing the energy consumption level of their machine, which results in more expensive electricity bills." That's to say nothing of the enormous performance hit crypto mining can inflict on a computer.
Hiding crypto miners inside software isn't a new practice, either. It's been going on for years now. Last year, Zcash, a relatively recent form of cryptocurrency, was being used criminal hackers to sneak their way onto people's machines and slowly mine Zcash. Gostev estimated roughly $75,000 per year was being generated by these "zombie" computers.
In this case, the CxStocks software does warn you before the crypto miner turns on:
"There was no intent to be deceptive," said Andries. "We clearly stated cryptocurrency would be mined and CPU load would increase."
Obviously, lots and lots of people disagreed with Andries' assertion; most of Denino's subreddit today has been taken over by people complaining about the inclusion of Coinhive.
"We mine the coins, and the owners get to keep the actual coins," said one user. "In turn, we get virtual coins."
The miner was quickly removed because, according to Andries, "people were misinformed." The removal reportedly happened at the request of Denino himself, and the ensuing firestorm has resulted in Andries being let go from Denino's company. Andries wasn't being paid for his work on CxStocks, according to Denino's spokesperson. Instead, he was working for free, and "Ice flew him to LA a few months ago as a thank you."
"The goal is always to earn money," said Andries. "I run a business and the bills and server costs need to be paid somehow. Ice doesn't pay me for the features I add to [the] website so I had to improvise and Coinhive seemed like a good solution to fix all those problems."
"Our developer, who released the mining software without consulting Ice, has been let go," said a spokesperson for Denino, "and is no longer associated with the company."
Part of this may have been fueled by a public back-and-forth between Denino and Andries.
Andries has deleted his reddit account, telling me "people were doxxing my old job and sending dead [sic] threats to my parents and old job."
"Ice's community has always been visceral," said Andries, "although not to this extent. I think the reaction was so big this time because Ice hasn't been streaming (properly) for a while, so people are more inclined to create drama for entertainment purposes."
Denino claims he "didnt [sic] know about the mining before it was released," and wasn't closely following every aspect of CxStocks' development because "there's a certain trust a developer and the person leading it should have." Denino is currently looking for another developer, who will be asked to finish the project "without the mining or sketchy shit."
He did briefly come to Andries' defense, saying he's "done a lot for the community."
"I can assure you I had no idea what the shekel mining was or that is was even being implemented," said Denino. "I was under the impression that Reddit accounts and YouTube accounts would be use to not inflate the economy. I'm not trying to scam anyone, if I really wanted to make money at any given time I would take any one of the weekly sponsors That get offered (anywhere from 5-20k). I usually don't take them so you don't see them."
At the moment, you can't download CxStocks. It's unclear when it will come back.