Brave browser promises faster Web by banishing intrusive ads

The new browser, a brainchild of ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, is also designed to improve online privacy.

Brave Software founder and CEO Brendan Eich

"We have to disconnect the bad system," says Brave Software founder and CEO Brendan Eich.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Brendan Eich, a Web pioneer and one of the key figures behind Firefox, is at it again with a new browser that promises to run faster than its rivals and shield you from annoying ads.

His startup, Brave Software, released a test version of the Brave browser on Wednesday. The browser works on personal computers using Microsoft's Windows operating system or Apple's OS X, as well as on smartphones running Google's Android or Apple's iOS software.

It's a comeback of sorts for Eich, a seminal figure in the Web world. He invented the JavaScript language that's the foundation of Web programming and co-founded the Mozilla project that builds the influential Firefox browser, but left Mozilla amid a firestorm of controversy in 2014.

With his 10-person, San Francisco-based company, Eich hopes to rid the world of the harmful aspects of online advertising.

"We have to disconnect the bad system," he said. "I talk about putting chlorine in the pool."

Beyond privacy protection, Eich promises Brave's browser will come with a big speed boost: It loads pages two to four times faster than other smartphone browsers and 1.4 times faster than other browsers for personal computers.

Eich faces big challenges like convincing people to switch browsers and publishers to support his startup. If it does succeed, Brave could enable better privacy for consumers and end their use of ad blockers that threaten to replace free online services with those charging for subscriptions.

Right now, online ads support countless free services, from Google search to Facebook social networking to Yahoo email. But publishers have an incentive to intrude on your personal life because ads sell for a premium when publishers know personal details about you. "When an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product," Apple CEO Tim Cook said in 2014, because advertisers are buying your personal details.

Brave's browser, left, strips out ads shown in Google's Chrome browser, right. In the future, Brave plans to show ads based on a limited amount of personal data shared with advertisers.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Brave's browser, still at version 0.7, speeds up the Web by stripping out not just ads but also other page elements that track online behavior and Web elements used to deliver ads. He hopes to strike a balance between preserving your privacy and eventually delivering ads that are actually useful to you.

Brave Software's logo

Brave Software's logo

Brave Software

How does Brave walk that fine line? The browser infers from your browsing history what you're interested in, such as gourmet coffee or European cars, and shares industry-standard categories with publishers who can then place appropriate ads without knowing anything else about you. Brave, the company, says it doesn't know or want to know any of this information.

For now, there are no ads. There are only empty patches that show where ads used to be. Once Brave has enough people using the browser, Eich hopes publishers will supply ads based on the limited information the browser shares. That will also be Brave's revenue source.

"We're going to have to prove ourselves to get that payment," he said.

If it can draw enough users, perhaps 10 million or so, Brave plans to offer another reason besides performance and privacy to use its browser: money. A little advertising revenue, maybe enough for a cup of coffee each month, could be returned to users in the form of credit that would function like a subscription to pay publishers to remove some ads.

Eich and his team built Brave out of Chromium, which is the foundation for Google's Chrome browser, which leaves most of the actual development and security support to Google. Why not use Firefox, into which Eich poured so much effort? Because Chrome is more widely used and therefore better tested by developers who want to make sure their websites work properly, he said.

"Chromium is the safe bet for us," he said.

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