Sunday January 07, 2018

Mining cryptocurrency helps raise bail for those who can't

An app called Bail Bloc from the magazine 'The New Inquiry' is using cryptocurrency mining to generate funds to cover the bail of people in pretrial detention.

An app called Bail Bloc from the magazine 'The New Inquiry' is using cryptocurrency mining to generate funds to cover the bail of people in pretrial detention. (Nicholas Kwok/Unsplash)

Listen 9:46

In November of 2017, the online magazine The New Inquiry released an app called Bail Bloc to its readers. When downloaded, the app would use small amounts of the computer's processing power to mine for a cryptocurrency called Monero. Rather than using the revenue to fund the magazine, as Pirate Bay or Showtime has done with similar tools, TNI donates the money to an organization called the Bronx Freedom Fund, which then uses it to pay the bail of people in jail awaiting trial.

Grayson Earle

Grayson Earle is one the co-creators of Bail Bloc

The app was originally created by artist and City University of New York professor Grayson Earle. "It was a call for applicants to come up with projects surrounding the idea of trust," Grayson said. "It was definitely a post Trump kind of call. And so started to think about trust in very material terms, like we need a trust, like a financial trust, to elevate radical, political projects to make them possible. And I was interested in, how do you weaponize clicktivism make it actually have a material effect on the world."

The idea of using the tool to contribute to a bail fund came about when Grayson partnered with TNI. The magazine has a satellite initiative called "Dark Inquiry". Grayson said, "they had this idea that software can be used to mount an argument in the same way that you know journalism can." 

Rather than just a way to collect money, Bail bloc is meant to make an argument about the injustice of bail. "Bail is a form of currency mining from low income individuals and communities of colour," said Maya Binyam, a senior editor at The New Inquiry. "Bail Block actually allows you to offer your computer as the target for that mining in their stead."

On Friday, when this article was published, Bail Bloc had roughly 1000 users and raised $4795 USD. Since bail money is returned if the accused returns to court for their trial date, the money can be used over and over.

Bail bloc logo 2

(The New Inquiry)

"Technologists are often making the claim that their products provide liberation," Maya said. "And they mean that mostly as a figure of speech or as a dead metaphor. And I think that these kinds of projects begin to imagine what it would mean for technology to literally provide liberation."

While only a few organizations have used this kind of cryptocurrency mining as a model to raise money, Grayson thinks that it will be a major part of fundraising in the future. "I'm certain that this will become a model for fundraising and I don't really know how I feel about that. Something that I had to grapple with when I was coming up with this technology is, A, what would it be like if a bunch of like skinheads or whatever wanted to do this. And B, ...if there were five different crypto fundraising projects it would already feel pretty saturated in a way.

"I think things are going to get really weird in the world of fundraising and finances in general, and blockchain is probably going to play a big part in that. Things are going to get interesting for sure."