New browser to block outside ads

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Former Mozilla CEO announces browser -- now in developer preview -- that will replace targeted ads on sites with its own 'anonymous' ads, and share revenue with content makers


Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla and for an 11-day stint, its CEO, yesterday announced a new browser called "Brave," that blocks outside online ads and ad tracking.

Brave, which was at version 0.7 -- denoting its under-construction and fit-for-developers-and-other-strong-hearts-only status -- is for Windows and OS X on the desktop, iOS and Android on mobile. The browser does not have a final code launch date or one for a public preview. Users may sign up for notification when betas become available.

brendan eich

Brendan Eich is the CEO and president of Brave.

In a post to the browser's website, Eich, Brave's CEO and president, touted the new browser's model, which rests on blocking ads and all other tracking techniques used by websites to pinpoint their visitors and show them online advertisements.

Eich characterized those practices, on which most for-free Web content are based, as "a primal threat" because of the privacy implications and the one-sided nature of the beast. "I contend that the threat we face is ancient and, at bottom, human," Eich wrote. "Some call it advertising, others privacy. I view it as the Principal-Agent conflict of interest woven into the fabric of the Web."

The principal-agent problem, sometimes called the "agency dilemma," pops up when one (the agent) makes decisions that affect others (the principal). Simply put, Eich's argument is that websites, by virtue of their advertising, make decisions for their users -- see ads in return for content -- that include an inherent conflict of interest: Websites make money on ads, so they are motivated to show ads at all costs.

Brave, argued Eich, is the answer.

"We are building a new browser and a connected private cloud service with anonymous ads," Eich said.

In effect, Brave will first scrub websites of most of their ads and all tracking, then replace those ads with its own. But the latter will be aimed not at individuals but at the anonymous aggregate of the browser's user base. If enough people gravitate to the browser, Brave will share its ad revenue with users and content publishers.

"We will target ads based on browser-side intent signals phrased in a standard vocabulary, and without a persistent user id or highly re-identifiable cookie," Eich said. "By default Brave will insert ads only in a few standard-sized spaces. We find those spaces via a cloud robot."

No user data will be recorded or stored by Brave, Eich promised.

Elsewhere, Eich said that 55% of Brave's revenue would be shared with site publishers, and 15% with users, who could then turn that money over to their favorite sites or keep it.

Al Hilwa, an analyst with research firm IDC, applauded the concept of creating an alternate revenue stream from traditional advertising, but wondered whether the browser could compete, even in the niche that Eich described. "This is a laudable idea, but fighting 'free' is always risky," said Hilwa in an email reply to questions.

Hilwa also praised Brave's track-and-serve-ads blocking. "[Brave] recognizes the key fact that browsing has become truly onerous and ever slower, even as devices have become faster," he said, pointing out that the "complex web of ad downloads" dwarfs the actual content being pulled into the browser.

Other browsers, notably Firefox -- and in the past, Microsoft's Internet Explorer -- have played the privacy card, too, although any success with that angle has not been measurable because both have lost significant user share in the past two years.

Ironically, considering Eich's background -- along with Mitchell Baker, he co-founded Mozilla, maker of Firefox, in 1998 -- Brave on the desktop is based on Chromium, the open-source project Google runs to feed code into its Chrome browser. Brave on iOS, however, is a fork of Firefox on Apple's mobile operating system.

Eich, also known for creating JavaScript, one of the foundations of the Web, was the CEO of Mozilla for a brief stretch in early 2014, but resigned less than two weeks into the job. During Eich's time as CEO, protests mounted over his 2008 contribution to supporters of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.

This story, "New browser to block outside ads" was originally published by Computerworld.

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