Bad news for Showtime customers: The company used Coinhive, a cryptocurrency mining tool, on several of its official websites. This allowed Showtime to use customers' devices to mine the Monero cryptocurrency, which it could then sell for a profit whenever it desired.
On its website, Coinhive's creators positioned the utility as a monetization platform that allows service operators to offer streaming videos, online games, and other services without requiring subscription fees or showing ads. The idea is that people can have their "free" content and privacy without putting companies out of business. Nothing is actually free—people are effectively renting out their CPUs—but it won't cost actual money.
Coinhive's presence on Showtime's websites was discovered by information security analyst Troy Mursch. We also confirmed the mining tool's presence on Showtime Anytime by viewing the source code of a cached version of the site from September 24. Mursch said Coinhive wasn't present in a version of the site cached on September 21, and it's since been removed, so it would appear Showtime didn't use the tool for long.
Still, it's not hard to see why someone would be upset about Showtime using Coinhive. These people thought they were just watching an episode of "Ray Donovan" when in actuality their CPUs were being used to mine cryptocurrency without their knowledge or consent. You might expect that from companies that offer free services, which have to make a buck somehow, but it's more surprising to see it from Showtime.
That's especially because Showtime doesn't offer free services. You have to sign up for a subscription to watch its programming. There are plenty of ways to sign up. You can subscribe via iTunes, Sling TV, cable television providers, and countless others—but none of them include "let Showtime use your computer to mine cryptocurrency." You were basically paying for the service twice by forking over your hard-earned money and sacrificing your CPU power.
That sacrifice isn't small, either. Mursch found that sitting idle on the Showtime Anytime used 60% of his CPU:
We sat idle on Showtime Anytime earlier this morning and found that it used less than 8% of our CPU, even though it was lumped in with the other tabs we had open in Firefox, which means there could be a substantial difference in the resources used by the site with and without Coinhive. This could, of course, also be caused by differences in the CPUs used as well as other factors. But the comparison is still worth making, if nothing else than for anecdotal purposes.
We've reached out to Showtime for more information about its Coinhive usage and will update this article if the company responds.