This look at the open source Brave Browser is the first of five articles that FOSS Force will be running in January that will look at five web browsers that are alternatives to the dominate browsers, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge. Next week we’ll be taking an in-depth dive into Vivaldi.
It’s too bad that Brave Software, the company behind the Brave browser, bases its business model on cryptocurrency. If not for that, I would be using it as my daily online driver, because it’s a great browser.
In case you’re not familiar, Brave is an open-source browser based on Chromium that’s designed to be a privacy respecting alternative to Google Chrome. It’s fast, said to be lightweight enough to make a noticeable difference in laptop battery life, and like most privacy-focused browsers, it comes configured out-of-the-box to block ads from being served from third party sites such as Google’s and Microsoft’s adservers (full disclosure: FOSS Force displays ads from Google).
It does other things to protect user privacy as well — like blocking fingerprinting scripts, which are used by many sites to gather bits of data about a visitor’s machine, that are then put together to form a unique “fingerprint” of the device. This allows the site to create a profile that can, in effect, track a machine’s web use.
In addition, Brave protects users from such things as conventional trackers, scripts, and cookies — and because blocking aspects of a web page can affect the user experience, users are given granular control over whether, or how much, to block these items.
For example, for cookies a user can choose to block all cookies (which would make many sites all but unusable due to a lack of session ID), cross-site cookies only (the default setting, which keeps data from being collected for the likes of Google or Amazon, while giving the site access to information it needs), or not block cookies at all.
The browser can auto-redirect AMP pages, prevent language-based fingerprinting, and show the number of of blocked items, on an icon located in the address bar.
For search, the browser offers a choice of seven search engines by default, including such privacy respecting search engines as Duck Duck Go and it’s own Brave search engine. For the latter, the company recently announced that it’s started a pilot project to include privacy respecting advertisements in the search results, which isn’t surprising since, ironically, from the beginning the Browser’s business model has been based on advertising.
It’s also ironic that the browser is based on Chromium, as Brave Software’s CEO and co-founder, Brendan Eich, worked at Netscape and co-founded the Mozilla project, which develops Firefox. He also co-founded the Mozilla Foundation and the Mozilla Corporation, and starting in 2005 served as Mozilla’s chief technical officer for more than nine years. On March 26, 2014 he was made Mozilla Corporation’s chief executive officer, but eleven days after this appointment he resigned after widespread criticism over his opposition to same-sex marriage.
The Brave Business Model
Brave’s original plan for using the browser as an advertising platform didn’t work out well, although it should qualify for some sort of award for good old-fashioned chutzpah.
In 2016, at about the time the company was releasing the first version of its browser, the company announced it was going to replace the ads its browser was blocking with privacy respecting ads that it would sell. In other words, it was going into competition with Google, Microsoft, and others in the highly monopolized internet advertising world.
The plan included a revenue sharing component: website operators would receive payment for the replacement ads and Brave users would be paid for the time spent watching the ads, with both sides being paid in cryptocurrency.
“Seventy percent of the revenue from Brave’s ad sales would be shared with publishers (55%) and users (15%),” Gregg Keizer reported in Computerworld in April, 2016. “The latter will be able to turn that money — in Bitcoin form — over to their favorite sites or keep it. Brave will retain 15%, with the remaining 15% going to advertising partners.”
If Eich and Brian Bondy, Brave’s other co-founder and the company’s CTO, thought their profit sharing scheme would satisfy web publishers, who were already watching their ad revenues drop considerably due to the rising use of ad blocking software, they were mistaken. Less than four months after the Browser launched as a preview, newspaper publishers ganged up and threatened the company with legal action if they continued with their plans.
“Your plan to use our content to sell your advertising is indistinguishable from a plan to steal our content to publish on your own website,” lawyers representing 17 publishers wrote in a letter to Eich.
According to Computerworld, the publishers represented more than 1,700 U.S. newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and those in the Gannett chain, which publishes USA Today and many regional and local newspapers.
“We stand ready to enforce all legal rights to protect our trademarks and copyrighted content, and to prevent you from deceiving consumers and unlawfully appropriating our work in the service of your business,” the letter went on to say. “We reserve the right to seek all remedies for this infringement, including but not limited to statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work. We believe your planned activities will also constitute unfair competition and misappropriation under relevant federal, state and common law. By engaging in Brave’s plan of advertising replacement, Brave is liable for breach of contract, unauthorized access to our websites, unfair competition, and other causes of action.”
The Brave browser folks acted quickly and put their replacement advertising plans on hold, although two years later the company announced “Brave Early Access,” a test of a similar project that involved about 1,000 volunteers using a customized Brave browser loaded with 250 ads set to run in rotation, evidently hoping that having the ads being served directly from the users’ browsers would help circumvent any legal liabilities.
Eventually, Brave dropped all ad replacement schemes in favor of a plan called “Brave Rewards” that serves text-based ads as push notifications that are not connected to the website being viewed.
So far, to the best of my knowledge, nobody’s sued, or threatened to sue, over this use.
Nor does it appear that anyone’s getting rich, at least among the users who are supposed to benefit from the program..
Brave Rewards and the Land of Milk and Honey
One of Brave’s selling points is they’ll pay you to watch ads as you spend time online. If you sign up for the Brave Rewards program, the ads show up whenever the browser is running, as push notifications in the upper left hand corner of your screen. This has of couple of advantages for Brave. For starters, since the ad isn’t being displayed in the browser, web publishers don’t have reason to complain. For the same reason, users will see the ads even if they’re in another workspace and the browser isn’t visible.
When an add pops up, a user can ignore it, make it disappear by clicking a blank space inside the box, or click on the ad’s text link to be taken to its landing page. Either of the last two choices will result in a cryptocurrency deposit into the user’s Brave Rewards account at the end of the month, although the last option likely pays more. Payment is in Basic Attention Tokens, or BATs, Brave’s own cryptocurrency that can be exchanged for other cryptocurrencies. To convert them, however, you’ll need to have an account with a cryptocurrency “banker,” which is mainly who advertises on Brave.
As a test, we here at FOSS Force created and activated an account, accomplished through the browser’s back end, in September, 2020. At the time, we were using Brave as the default browser on all of our machines, but we only activated the program on our main workstation. About a year later, we quit using Brave as our default browser, but continued to receive ads because we run TweetDeck as a web app in a Brave window.
After about 2 1/2 of clicking away ads (always clicking away — only once clicking the ad’s text to be carried to a landing page), we’re sitting on a nest egg of 15.750 BAT, which converted into real money is $2.75. In all fairness, it would be more, because under the program you have to claim your earnings within a specified amount of time at the end of each month or you lose them, and there have been numerous months when we’ve forgotten to do this. Looking at the records in our browser, it appears that our average monthly take when we’ve remembered to claim our earnings, has been 2.500 BAT or 44 cents in real money.
As I write this on third day of January, the browser tells me that our estimated earnings so far for this month total 0.155BAT, which works out to three cents.
One last thing. I don’t know if this has anything to do with anything at all, but I’ve noticed recently I’m clicking away fewer ads. A whole lot fewer. After sitting at the computer working now for the better part of 10 hours, I just clicked my first ad of the day away. It seems to me that the falloff in the number of ads began in November, at about the same time that the cryptocurrency exchange FTX became a floater.
Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux
100% agreed. I use Brave for its privacy features, and I would be a much happier person if the crypto aspect would just go away and I don’t have to spend time disabling all the crypto stuff every time I distro-hop.
Such a shame, because if you see the Privacy section of their blogs, there’s actually a ton of cool privacy features that they regularly develop, often in collaboration with another privacy group or a university. And as a whole, I consider them to be the least bad Chromium browser that can be used as a drop in replacement to Chrome (unfortunately, I couldn’t stand ungoogled-chromium for its lack of syncing).
Finally, while I’m happy that Eich is no longer a vocal and noticeable part of Brave (unlike Manjaro and Gnome’s managements which are often too incompetent and opinionated for my preference) I still would rather he not be a part of Brave so that you don’t have to deal with that asterisk anymore.
The cryptoshit and Eich could just go away, and Brave would be a much easier browser to recommend. I’d assume Brave Search’s ads and Brave Talk are part of an effort from them to slowly move away from pure crypto, but we’ll see where that goes.
Good Luck With That.
Without a business model Brave would not exist along with all of those privacy features. Get over it…
Brave is staffed up with privacy people Because of Eich and his business model.
It often seems to me, that they have a nearly religious bunch of followers that are doing the “evangelizing” wherever they appear.
I don’t buy their privacy stance as IMHO the crypto stuff is the real thing for them. They don’t earn as much as no money, if you use Brave without BAT. So why should they care about privacy in and for itself?
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