Apparently, however, Mr. Eich has undergone some kind of late-career conversion to the dark side of the force. With Brave, Mr. Eich wants to ruin my work—and that of every other creator who’s still propping up what’s left of the ad-free internet—so that he (and his venture investors) may profit. How? By layering ads over my ad-free website, while convincing web users that they’re part of some virtuous new economy.
Sorry Mr. Eich, but I refuse to cooperate. As soon as I figure out how to detect the Brave web browser by technological means—a task you’re deliberately making difficult, because you know that many publishers would like to do the same—I will make sure that every Brave visitor gets this as their landing page.
Because they deserve to know that Brave is bullshit.
For web users, Brave is a company, founded by Mr. Eich, that makes an eponymous web browser. According to Brave, its browser offers two key benefits:
“speed,security, and privacy” that comes from automatically blocking ads and trackers.
The virtuous pleasure of giving
“publishersback their fair share of Internet revenue.”
Before we go further, let’s notice that Brave’s pitch blatantly sidesteps the fact that web publishers already have a preferred way of getting their
Hey, I don’t like those ads either. Though I’m skeptical that blocking them does much good in the aggregate.
It’s definitely true, however, that blocking them makes web browsing faster. Although every web browser supports ad blocking (usually through external plug-ins), Brave is the first to declare total war on the ad economy of the web.
Well—sort of. Brave the browser, like every other web browser, is free to end users. But because Brave the company, like every other tech company, has bills to pay, and investors to enrich, it needs a revenue model. And that model is—prepare to unholster your complete lack of surprise—ads.
But wait—come back! Not just any ads. New and improved ads. Ads that are
Perhaps concerned that users might detect that Brave is doing nothing more sophisticated than substituting one set of ads for another, Brave has put misdirection into the trick in the trendy way: with cryptocurrency. Brave has invented something called the
To close the circle, web creators who want their
The best I can say for Brave is that it’s clever. Not the ads per se. But the audacity of introducing a private advertising ecosystem. And roping users and creators into it with a crypto coin.
But in all other ways, it’s just as awful as the system it proposes to replace. Worse, really, because Brave takes its bad idea and layers on the usual whipped-bullshit virtue topping that tech companies deploy so we can’t quite see what’s really going on. Moreover, Brave’s timing couldn’t be better: as Big Tech’s reputation keeps taking hits, Brave can hold itself out as the contrarian option to repair the web.
As one of the creators who I guess is supposed to be grateful to Brave, I disagree. Once I scrape away the topping, it’s apparent Brave is serving up the same old shit sandwich.
About which, more below. But first, let’s rewind.
In 1998, Eich helped spin out Netscape’s source code into the open-source Mozilla project. In 2003, Eich left Netscape for Mozilla, serving the project in various capacities until 2014.
To give Mr. Eich his due: in the last 25 years, one could argue that Mozilla has been one of the top five citizens of the internet. They’ve always had good ethics. They’ve made a lot of really good software, most of all the Firefox web browser. They’ve led by example and held themselves accountable. And Mozilla has survived despite the commercial web often being hostile to Mozilla’s values. For whatever part of this Mr. Eich was responsible for, he deserves credit and gratitude.
I hesitate to mention what happened next, because it’s not strictly part of Mr. Eich’s technology portfolio. And yet. It does seem to play a role in Brave’s origin story, much the same way that Mr. Incredible’s (r)ejection of Incrediboy led him to become Syndrome.
In March 2014, Mr. Eich was appointed CEO of Mozilla Corporation. That’s the kind of job you don’t take unless you plan to stick around for a while. Days later, people of the internet discovered that Mr. Eich had financially supported California Proposition 8, a notorious 2008 ballot measure that wanted to ban same-sex marriage in California. Backlash followed. After offering a heartfelt non-apology, Mr. Eich resigned.
I don’t care that Mr. Eich is a political conservative. I’m not. But I don’t think he owed anyone an apology. His views were not a secret. Still, I don’t see him as a victim either. Records of political donations are public for a reason.
If anything, the board of Mozilla should’ve noticed the likelihood for controversy before they elevated him to CEO. If they had, maybe they wouldn’t have made the appointment. Or maybe they would’ve found a way to work around the PR problem. In any case, maybe Mr. Eich would’ve remained at Mozilla. The kerfuffle would’ve faded. And Mr. Eich could’ve gone back to being a rich, famous, and influential web engineer.
Instead, he left. Shortly thereafter, he started work on the company that became Brave, which ethically speaking is Mozilla’s exact antipode. I have no special insight into Mr. Eich’s motivations. But given the timing of events, it’s hard not to see Brave as a response to the events surrounding his involuntary exit from Mozilla. As a browser maker, Brave’s competition is more than just Mozilla Firefox. But Brave’s theory of the web seems almost like the Bizarro-world refraction of Mozilla’s.
If Mr. Eich had wanted to be accurate, he would’ve called his new browser
The name Brave implies that other tech companies are shrinking from the job of improving the broken aspects of the web. Near the top of that list is what is now a decades-long failure to devise a sustainable model to fund creators and publishers.
There is truth to this critique. As I write this, Google’s Chrome browser is by far the most popular. But Google gets almost all its money from ads, and has no incentive to do any favors for publishers. Likewise Facebook, despite occasional grunting noises to the contrary.
But the idea that Brave is somehow sticking its neck out is laughable. Here’s what I find most cowardly about Brave:
Zero innovation. Brave isn’t offering a new idea. It’s just substituting one set of ads for another. It’s as if you were punching yourself in the face for days, and someone handed you a rock instead. If ads are the original sin of the web, Brave is not leading us to terra nova.
Dishonesty. With its nonsense about privacy and authenticity and integrity, Brave is holding out its ad system as some great ethical leap forward. It’s not.
For publishers, it’s the same old protection racket—nice website you’ve got there, shame if something happened to its traffic—but run by Brave instead of Google or Facebook.
For users, Brave is still going to collect data about you and leverage it to target you with ads. Oh, sorry—in Brave’s marketplace,
“usersbecome partners instead of targets”, so I guess they’ll “partner”you with ads. Feel better?
Freeloading. One of the sneakiest aspects of Brave is the implied connection between generating cryptocurrency while browsing and paying out that currency later. It sounds like web users are paying for what they read. In some cases, they might.
But that’s not guaranteed. By substituting its own ads, Brave is also severing the connection between where the ads are seen and who gets the money for those ads. Brave converts the whole web into a clean substrate for delivering its own ads, without guaranteeing any payment to anyone.
For instance, suppose a Brave user spends 99% of their time on Terrific.com and 1% on Shady.com. As I understand it, the Brave gilt generated during those sessions is not automatically distributed pro rata, which you might think would be essential to creators getting the
“fairshare” that Brave promotes. Rather, the user decides who gets the money—for instance, they could pledge 100% of it to Shady.com, where they spend almost no time, and none to Terrific.com, the site that morally earned it.
In other words, signing up as a Brave
“contentcreator” is not the end of the struggle, but merely the beginning. In the bad old days, you had to lure people onto your website. But once you did, at least you had a shot at showing them a few ads.
Under Brave’s system, you still have to lure them onto your website, but then also make sure you compete effectively against other Brave content creators to get that
“fairshare” you keep hearing about.
This, in turn, is going to lead to predictable forms of systemwide cheating that have nothing to do with content creation. In short, Brave’s creator economy is going to descend into anarchic corruption in about five seconds. The ethical creators will start to disappear from the system as they find themselves even more underpaid than before. After that, the usual race to the bottom will ensue.
As an economic matter, Brave will fail, because there’s no way for it to succeed. Web ads are a rotten business—a form of regressive taxation upon the web’s least sophisticated users that depends on escalating levels of surveillance to sustain any value. Brave is panning for gold in a river of sewage.
Beyond that, the fact that Brendan Eich has done a lot of good things for the web via his work at Mozilla just makes the existence of Brave all the more inexplicable and dispiriting.
You know what would’ve been brave, Mr. Eich? Helping publishers find a way to induce more readers to pay for the material they find valuable, without the unnecessary indirection of ads and cryptocurrency. Like I do.
12 December 2019
by the way
“Butas a user, participating in Brave’s ad model is entirely voluntary.” For now. As the weakness of Brave’s revenue model reveals itself, we can expect that the Brave browser will make it tougher to avoid the ads. But even today, you can’t pay creators through Brave unless you’re generating Basic Attention Tokens by watching ads. Conversely, if you don’t care about paying creators, then you don’t need to use Brave. “Whydo you care if Brave shows people ads while they visit your ad-free sites?” For the same reason I don’t like any of the effluent flows: they send me useless traffic that costs me real money. But hey, that’s the web—I accept that certain sites exist to exploit people with skills and credibility. Brave, by contrast, is holding itself out as an enlightened company friendly to web publishers, but without actually making any concrete commitments.