The usual news sources have been abuzz over the last couple of days about Brave, the new open-source ad-blocking browser from Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich. Apparently it’s more like three browsers, because Ars Technica reports the iOS, PC, and Android versions seem to be based on Firefox, Chromium, and Bubble respectively. The browser isn’t available yet, but it’s taking sign-ups for beta users on its site.
It might be more apt to call it an ad-substituting browser, because while it might block ads now, the main idea is apparently to replace the more egregious (and potentially malicious) advertisements with its own ads, and split its own ad revenue with the site and the user. And it seems that removes a lot of the potential advantage, especially for a mobile browser. As Ars points out:
It isn’t clear whether Brave will actually be any faster than another browser, or whether it will save on mobile data usage, once it has inserted its own ads. The new ads still have to be pulled down across the Internet. Brave doesn’t have a special pipe that makes its ads load more quickly than the ones it replaced. It’s fairly safe to assume that Brave will also use quite a lot of CPU time to strip out ads and then insert new ones.
It does have some attractive security features—it strips out tracking cookies that follow you around the web, basing its ads solely on your local browsing history. Also, it implements HTTPS Everywhere, automatically using HTTPS for every web site where available. But those things can be done just as easily with existing browser and ad-blocking technology.
The thing that puzzles me is who Eich thinks is actually going to want his new browser. It doesn’t seem like it’s the sort of thing that ought to appeal to anybody—users, site operators, or advertisers.
Anybody who wants to block ads already can and does block them. Oh sure, there are some “moral ad-blockers” who do want to support the sites they visit where possible and view ads as long as they aren’t annoying or malicious—but they often choose to use ad-blockers and simply disable the blocks for the sites they want to support, or they use an ad-blocker like AdBlock Plus that will permit “acceptable ads” through. Most ad-blocker users don’t find any ads acceptable at all, and it’s doubtful they’ll bother with a new browser that still carries them.
As for site operators, it doesn’t seem as though there’s much in it for them. After all, they were already getting paid for the ads Brave will be blocking—and they’re supposed to be happy they’re getting 55% of Brave’s ad revenue in exchange? And stripping ads while paying site operators has been tried before—by Readability—and it just didn’t work out. The majority of the compensation payments remained unclaimed, and authors and publishers got annoyed Readability was claiming to represent them without their consent. How is Brave supposed to succeed where they failed?
Finally, advertisers have never been terribly happy about anyone who helps block ads—even outfits like AdBlock Plus, which lets advertisers pay it extra to let “acceptable” ads through. Slashdot notes that AdBlock Plus was recently disinvited from the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual summit meeting. Furthermore, the practice of substituting one’s own ads for someone else’s is called “ad injection,” and has historically been associated with malware and trojans, as well as a scheme Comcast tried that didn’t go over very well. DigiDay writes:
The industry has been wrestling with ad injection for years. Adware company Gator turned heads as far back as 2001 for its software, which replaced sites’ banner ads with its own. Gator infringes “on the trademark, copyright and intellectual property rights of Web publishers and advertisers,” Then-IAB president and CEO Robin Webster said at the time.
Are they suddenly supposed to be happy about it now?
If nothing else, the new browser is appropriately named. Eich must be pretty “Brave” to put it out there and hope anybody will actually want it.
Perhaps this new web browser anticipates success by those web sites that punish ad blocking by denying visitor access to features such as seeing or making comments. In that case, web browsers might compete on the basis of how well they filter out the more obnoxious stuff w/o triggering retaliation by web sites that matter to the audience. Thus, we could see promotional blurbs such as: “Try Brave, the new web browser that reduces obnoxious ads by 30% without negative consequences.”
This tug-o-war between web sites and their audiences will probably generate better negotiation tools than this but it may well be marked as the beginning of a process that eventuates in a new social contract for the web.