On Wednesday, Brave announced that the browser that, to quote,
Ends Surveillance Capitalism
…is now out of beta and ready for general consumption. The beta version has already drawn 8.7 million monthly users, but now, the full, stable release is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
The browser, based on Chromium – the open-source version of Google’s Chrome browser – promises these kind of protections, some of which have motivated cautious users to resort to adblockers:
- Privacy from ads that track us across the web.
- Speed: what Brave says is a 3-6x faster browsing experience.
- Security from malvertising, when ad networks deliver malware.
- Cash in exchange for users agreeing to be shown ads vetted to weed out the annoying and the malware-risky, users will be paid in Brave’s own virtual ad currency, called Basic Attention Token (BAT)… unless they opt to contribute the little dabs of cryptocurrency back to the publishers, or to their favorite content creators.
Brave started displaying vetted ads in April 2019. The so-called Brave Ads digital advertising model offered a new way to work out the economics of the current web model, which pits publishers who need revenue and get it through ads vs. web visitors who need their privacy, security and sanity.
The Brave new model: users agree to see the vetted ads, and they get BAT.
Specifically, Brave users who agree to see ads get 70% of the gross ad revenue, paid out with BAT, while Brave keeps the rest. At the end of the Brave Rewards monthly cycle, users can claim the accumulated tokens and either donate them to their most visited sites or cash out.
You have to turn on Brave Rewards if you want to pocket the BAT. The default setting puts the money into the pockets of publishers.
From ‘don’t touch our ads!’ to ‘sign me up’
The publishing world’s initial response to Brave’s plan: Hell, no. Lawyers from the likes of The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other members of the Newspaper Association of America published a letter in April 2016, threatening legal action if Brave messed with their ads.
Over the past 3.5 years or so, it’s managed to convince some big players: it’s signed up over 300,000 verified websites, including the initially “we will sue you” Washington Post, as well as The Guardian and Wikipedia, and creators on YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, GitHub and more.
Most users will presumably choose to recompense those publishers, considering how little a user can make if they decide to pocket their BAT. Brave chief product officer David Temkin, talking to Wired, estimated that an average user could make about $5 worth of BAT each month.
Still, if you have a deep need for mini spatulas, you’ll be glad to hear that there’s now a way to actually monetize BAT. You can cash them yourself via Brave’s partner, the digital money platform Uphold, or, eventually, exchange the tokens for gift cards and restaurant vouchers, according to The Verge.
Brave promises privacy…
Brave’s platform, which is based on an Ethereum-based blockchain, natively blocks trackers, invasive ads, and device fingerprinting by default. That means that users can browse the web without their interests and browsing histories being snorted by trackers: while advertisers can see users’ activity, they can’t connect that activity to individuals.
The blockchain also ensures that BAT payments will be transparent and secure.
…But don’t they all?
It all sounds great, but Brave is far from the only browser that’s promising better privacy these days.
Firefox, for one, has rolled out a slew of tracker-flummoxing changes over the past year: blocking some trackers by default, new controls to make it easier for users to dodge ads, a project called Track THIS that makes out-of-sight ad-snooping visible to all, and a drop-down menu that shows the trackers detected on each site, among other things.
Safari goes even further. It added a similar feature a few years ago but took it further still: it blocks nearly all third-party trackers on sites you don’t visit frequently by default, rather than just known trackers collected on a blacklist.
In May 2019, Google announced new privacy tools to limit how much advertisers can track us online. Those tools aren’t out yet, but Google has said that it’s working on changing how certain classifications of cookies get blocked by default in Chrome – a change that it expects to deliver by February 2020.
The difference between all these privacy protections and Brave? Brave promises to block third-party ads, trackers and autoplay videos automatically, by default, no tinkering with settings required (though it’s an option).
Now that it’s out of beta and into 1.0, we’ll be able to see how much that matters to users. If you’re using the browser now, please do tell us how you like it and whether you think it measures up to its promise.