Privacy-conscious web browser company Brave was busy trying to correct the record this week after someone posted what looked like a whitelist in its code allowing its browser to communicate with Facebook from third-party websites.
Launched in 2016, Brave is a browser that stakes its business model on user privacy. Instead of just serving up user browsing data to advertisers, its developers designed it to put control in the users’ hands. Rather than allowing advertisers to track its users, the browser blocks ad trackers and instead leaves users’ browsing data encrypted on their machines. It then gives users the option to receive ads by signalling basic information about their intentions to advertisers, but only with user permission. It rewards users for this with an Ethereum blockchain-based token called the Basic Attention Token (BAT). Users can also credit publishers that they like with the tokens.
Brave’s FAQ explains:
Ads and trackers are blocked by default. You can allow ads and trackers in the preferences panel.
Yet a post on the YCombinator Hacker News site reveals that the browser has whitelisted at least two social media sites known to be aggressive about slurping user data: Facebook and Twitter. The post points to a code commit on Brave’s GitHub repository from April 2017 that includes the following code:
const whitelistHosts = ['connect.facebook.net', 'connect.facebook.com', 'staticxx.facebook.com', 'www.facebook.com', 'scontent.xx.fbcdn.net', 'pbs.twimg.com', 'scontent-sjc2-1.xx.fbcdn.net', 'platform.twitter.com', 'syndication.twitter.com', 'cdn.syndication.twimg.com']
The code was prefaced with this:
// Temporary whitelist until we find a better solution
The whitelist was in an archived version of the repository but also turns up in the latest current master branch.
Brave staff have separately commented on the issue in different threads. CTO Brian Bondy commented directly in the YCombinator thread saying:
There’s a balance between breaking the web and being as strict as possible. Saying we fully allow Facebook tracking isn’t right, but we admittedly need more strict-mode like settings for privacy conscious users.
He added that Brave’s Facebook blocking is “at least as good” as uBlock origin, which is a cross-platform ad blocker.
So if the entries in the whitelist aren’t ad trackers, what are they?
The domains listed in the article as exceptions are related to Facebook’s JS SDK that publishers implement for user auth and sharing, likes, etc.
Blocking those events outright would break that Facebook functionality on a whole heap of sites, he said.
Along with Bondy, he cites GitHub commits from three weeks ago that updated the browser’s ad blocking lists, explicitly blocking Facebook requests used for tracking.
Mind you, data slurps like Facebook can also track people by fingerprinting their browsers and machines. Eich doesn’t think that’s enough. He said:
A network request does not by itself enable tracking – IP address fingerprinting is not robust, especially on mobile.
The company used the whitelist when it was relatively small because it didn’t have the resources to come up with a more permanent solution, he said, adding that Brave will work to empty the list over time.
We are not a “cloud” or “social” server-holds-your-data company pretending to be on your side. We reject that via zero-knowledge/blind-signature cryptography and client-side computation. Can’t be evil trumps don’t be evil.
Eich and his team could have opted to break things like Facebook likes and Facebook-based authentication on third-party sites, but that would have left users wondering why hordes of sites didn’t look the same in Brave as they did in other browsers. That would have been a big risk for a consumer-facing browser trying to gain traction, and it was one that Brave was understandably unwilling to take.
10 comments on “Brave browser explains Facebook whitelist to concerned users”
I block all that Facebook garbage by default via firewall. If I really need it (which almost never is the case) I can unblock it as needed. The Brave browser, or any browser which touts special privacy features, should give me the choice, not make it for me.
They do give you the choice: you can choose whether to install it and use it. But they do need to be open and clear about what it does or doesn’t do. Seems to me that’s where they muffed it.
It would have been much preferable for Brave to tell me, if and when the case arose, that it could not honour an authentification request via Facebook and offer me to add an exception if I need if. Doesn’t seem to be rocket science. I think I’ll be switching browsers on my phone.
I agree, Pierre. But I’m interested to know what you’ll switch to
“…but that would have left users wondering why hordes of sites didn’t look the same in Brave as they did in other browsers”
Really? Is it not common knowledge that Brave is privacy conscious? Thus by using it, one expects some ‘interference’
I am specifically talking about app installers like Brave and Android & iOS where the apps get revoked by apple
I tried it for a month and think it’s a big hot steaming pile of horse hocky myself. No minimize, full window or close buttons in upper right corner of browser window, can’t change I con sizes, tells me I have to reinstall it because it can’t update ( I blocked updates for it like I’ve done on everything), no separate search to the right of web address, can’t move tabs below address bar, installed it’s HUGE, at around 433 Mb plus it just looks like a 8 year old put it together. I’ll stick with the oldest versions of Firefox and Opera that I can use, to surf the web like I’ve always done… not this garbage. Maybe I’ll try it again in 5 years, when they are grown up and it actually looks and feels like the old Firefox that it should have been. With all the wrong things I posted above fixed.
Every new profile for facebook using Brave Browser gave me a block at the account.
I tried 4 new profiles (each one with a brand nw email from Google) and every one of them had the same destiny on Facebook: DEACTIVATED ACCOUNT.
On the 5th try using Firefox, with a brand new mail, every thing went okay.
Note: also for phone number: Blocked on Facebook. So, I cannot use it @ Facebook, “because” of brave
I ran into this article when trying to allow amazon only on a site that it was worth it too my. Brave told me the 5 cross site cookies it as seeing and it said it was blocking them, 1 to twitter and 2 to facebook. I have NO interest in using Facebook to authenticate to anything and the like button is would be just fine if it didn’t become revenue for Zuckerberg. As it is I want as little to do with Facebook and Google as I can. Facebook I can kind of get away from, except in ad’s in my games. Google is another story but I don’t have to make it easy. No interest in Google authentication. I use a different search engine because Google recently has given me very little that I really wanted, very difficult to find answers to questions that don’t involve a non-answer and a sales pitch. Google has become a huge time waster to me. But Brave doesn’t have a way I can find to block facebook and twitter and not others. That is a shame.
In Brave Settings 6th selection down there is “Social media blocking”
You can block Google, Facebook, Twitter and more.