Brave Browser: Recent Attacks Suggest a Fear It Will Succeed
Disclosure: As a technologist working within the existing ad-tech system I've seen the privacy violations and fraud that occurs. This has led me to being strongly supportive of Brave and the BAT model. I hold crypto, including BAT. As Brave gets closer to challenging the existing ad-tech model (with features like BAT rewards for users who opt-in to ads) it's beginning to attract increased attention from critics and detractors. The latest attention was triggered by a complaint from a creator:
Disclosure: As a technologist working within the existing ad-tech system I've seen the privacy violations and fraud that occurs. This has led me to being strongly supportive of Brave and the BAT model. I hold crypto, including BAT.
As Brave gets closer to challenging the existing ad-tech model (with features like BAT rewards for users who opt-in to ads) it's beginning to attract increased attention from critics and detractors.
The latest attention was triggered by a complaint from a creator:
The UI creates an impression of an authorised donation channel for a creator, even when they aren't active in the system - a valid complaint.
See the balance in that screenshot though? 30 BAT. The amount Brave currently distributes each month from their User Growth Pool (UGP).
It serves to highlight an important point about the furore: the money flowing through the token ecosystem right now is almost entirely Brave's own UGP tokens.
While detractors like to argue it's possible for users to donate self-funded BAT to unverified sites and identities, the reality is a user who would do this is:
- An early adopter of crypto
- Comfortable with buying a relatively unknown token (BAT) from a crypto exchange
- Familiar with having to enable Brave rewards (it's off by default)
- Confident in transferring BAT from a crypto exchange to their in-browser wallet
- Okay with tipping their own money to an unverified publisher
It's safe to say that unsupportive creators have lost nothing from mainstream users who want to support them through other channels.
Detractors care little for reasonable analysis though, and recent online debates and articles illustrate this.
Take the recent writeup on Brave by The Block, a nascent crypto news publication which took Eich and Brave to task.
The article opens by correctly summarising the origin story of the debate, in which Tom Scott was rightfully concerned with Brave's then-current user interface. By portraying Tom as a willing participant - and Brave as a valid donation channel to him - it is inarguable that in the future real supporters of Tom could have unwittingly channeled economic goodwill via Brave.
That is not ideal. Unintentionally or not, Brave had the potential to divert some of an unsupportive publisher's economic goodwill through their own system.
I say potential because the real point at which everyday early adopters would realistically start using their own money is when Brave flips the switch on their ad rewards:
At that point many users will begin receiving their first earned BAT, and the chance of any one user unwittingly sending their own money to unverified publishers increases.
To resolve this potential situation Brave implemented UI changes and released new versions of the Brave browser over the Christmas period.
Although these changes were satisfactory for many, Eich has mooted more changes soon that will only allow user-funded tips to verified creators:
But back to The Block's write-up. The first real distortion relies on a mischaracterisation of Brave's model:
The framing and selective quoting work together to create a perception that Brave's model is about doing dodgy ad-replacement of publisher content without consent, which is just not true.
Brave's actual model combines pragmatism that ad-blocking can, should and will increase (from an economic and security perspective) with a variety of new revenue models for publishers (low-friction donation systems, subscription options, and new ad placement models)
The article also incorrectly implies Brave is loathed by all media:
Naturally, the media doesn't like this idea.
The irony is two of the newspaper publishers cited by the outdated 2016 complaint are active within the Brave ecosystem: Dow Jones Media Group announced a partnership with Brave in 2018, and The Washington Post is a verified publisher.
This is in addition to verified publishers like The Guardian and Vice.
More recently, Brave announced it has joined the AdLedger consortium, which includes:
advertisers, agencies, publishers, and technology providers such as Publicis, Omnicom, IPG Reprise Digital, GroupM, MadHive, Coindesk, Meredith, TEGNA, IBM and more than 50 other influential companies in the advertising industry.
It's almost as if the perception being spun in the reader's mind is unsupported by reality.
Moving on we see a casual reference to Eich's historical support for a Californian ballot which asserted that:
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California
I'm opposed to this position (see my most recent blog post on the Australian marriage equality vote), but equally alarmed by those who avoid any intellectual nuance and use narrow framing of individuals to channel outrage and pitchforking well beyond reason in an open, democratic society.
Moving on to The Block's section How Brave Works we see an attempt to argue Brave is creating 'personal profiles' from public data to suggest they are in violation of GDPR in some unspecified way.
Keep in mind one of the leading voices in Europe for GDPR is Dr Johnny Ryan, who recently joined Brave as Chief Policy and Industrial Relations officers and is involved in Brave's GDPR complaint against Google and other advertising companies.
A further lazy attempt to excoriate Brave's model is made through the medium of ... a random Hacker News comment which suggests Brave's core business model is simply to fraudulently hustle for donations and ... profit?
The article concludes by asserting - wrongly - that Brave's changes still deliver an unethical opt-opt system which takes donations without consent.
As we've seen Brave is working to explicitly disallow user-funded donations to unverified sites, so we should hope The Block makes an effort to update and correct their article.
As expected Bitcoin maximalists have boosted the current form of the article to stoke a negative and incorrect narrative around the Brave / BAT model, and what we've seen in online Twitter debates is an attempt to push this narrative to suppress growing interest in Brave's model.
This is, of course, how various vested interests will attempt to destroy Brave: by engaging in increasingly active social media influencer campaigns which:
- emphasise outdated & distorted models that onlookers would reject
- exaggerate the real-world implications of any defects
- hold the team, who already develop almost entirely in the open, to extreme and unrealistic standards
- avoid comparing the current broken ad-tech model with Brave's proposed (and evolving) approach
It should be no surprise.
Brave is on the cusp of capturing significant mindshare with a privacy-by-default browser and privacy-by-design token economy which challenges global incumbent giants like Google, endless ad-tech middlemen (and associated startups), and social media identities who are beneficiaries of the existing system.
If that weren't enough, some of the most vocal and aggressive crypto voices are and will increasingly be fierce opponents, having never forgiven Eich for switching out the initial Bitcoin-based payment system for BAT.
These opponents are increasingly fearful that a first-class browser with a world-class team pioneering a low-friction, browser-native token ecosystem threatens to break out into widespread usage, driven not just by user utility but by significant commercial pressures and motivations within the publisher / advertiser / media industry.
2019 is set to be a breakout year for the utility wave of crypto, and when you cut through the noise and consider Brave and BAT from multiple angles it becomes clear that it might just become the killer app for crypto.