BailBloc: Crowd-mining for a Cause

February 4, 2018 | Isabel di Pace Rachman

BailBloc: Crowd-mining for a Cause February 4, 2018 | Isabel di Pace Rachman

Disconcerted with the current bailment system of American jails, which have been branded as a tool of coercion, Bail Bloc emerged as a collaboration between Grayson Earle, Maya Binyam, Francis Tseng, JB Rubinovitz, Sam Lavigne, Devin Kenny, and the Dark Inquiry collective. When installed, Bail Bloc uses a percentage of your computer’s unused processing power to mine Monero, a notoriously private cryptocurrency. On a monthly basis, the funds generated are exchanged for US dollars, and are consequently donated to the Bronx Freedom Fund which allocates such funds to posting bails.

The Bronx Freedom Fund works to pay bail for low-income earners within New York. The benefit of targeting this bail system is that such said funds are revolving- once bail is posted for an arrestee and they return to their court hearing, the money is returned to the Fund. Bail Bloc cites that 96% of those who have their bail posted make a court appearance. This means that those who have downloaded Bail Bloc will then have small sums of money returned to them, deriving from the processing power of their computers used to generate the initial funds. Bail Bloc currently estimates that those who have downloaded the program are standing to earn a small sum of $3-$5 per month. This is arguably beneficial- installing a program that only uses some processing power off your computer, aiding others and receiving cashback sounds ideal, yet is this a realistically painted picture?

Monero is Bail Bloc’s crypto of choice; it is ASIC-resistant, meaning it can be mined from personal computers in what they claim is a ‘financially viable’ manner. This crypto is also secure and untraceable through its ring signature algorithm, which causes alterations between spender’s signatures- these may be mixed, making it virtually impossible to establish the link between transactions. This ring mechanism also hides the transferred amounts of the currency. Stealth addresses are additionally used, meaning nobody but the participating parties can see the destination of a transaction.

Although seemingly idyllic, the use of Monero has posed issues for Bail Bloc during its run. Initial concerns have arisen in regard to the energy consumption of computers' unused processing powers. When Bail Bloc is downloaded, it doesn’t only use your computer’s processing power- it leeches off available energy in order to do so. As mining requires high amounts of electricity, many have felt discouraged to download this program, in fear that returns would not compensate additional charges equivalent to this increased usage of electricity. Bail Bloc has addressed this issue in two manners: it firstly justifies the increase in energy use as being correspondent to the power used from your computer- 10% use of its power will mean a 10% increase in energy usage (yet this is enough to increase CO2 emissions once, or, if, popularised). Bail Bloc also addresses this by claiming that energy bills are unlikely to increase, $2 monthly at most- yet when scrolling through their FAQs, they suggest you run the program whilst in places such as gentrifying coffee shops- an evident circumvention of the real question at hand.

Bail Bloc has been created for an indisputably good cause, and materialised through one of the world’s highest advancing technologies- yet this is not without an evident opportunity cost at hand. It is now up to individuals to consider whether to bear the burdens of potentially higher bills and slower computers, in exchange for aiding those in need.