Brave's AI blocks ads better than today's browser plug-ins, company says

Perhaps computers will replace the humans who spot ads.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
Expertise Processors, semiconductors, web browsers, quantum computing, supercomputers, AI, 3D printing, drones, computer science, physics, programming, materials science, USB, UWB, Android, digital photography, science. Credentials
  • Shankland covered the tech industry for more than 25 years and was a science writer for five years before that. He has deep expertise in microprocessors, digital photography, computer hardware and software, internet standards, web technology, and more.
Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Brave browser logo
Brave Software

Brave has developed AI technology called AdGraph that outperforms conventional ad-blocking technology, the browser startup said Friday.

"We can train supervised machine learning models to automatically block ads and trackers," researchers from Brave and four universities said in a research paper. "We found that AdGraph replicates the behavior of popular crowdsourced filter lists with an 97.7 percent accuracy. In addition, AdGraph is able to detect a significant number of ads and tracker which are missed by popular crowdsourced filter lists."

Ad-blocking browser extensions like Adblock Plus today typically use manually maintained filter lists such as Easylist to determine what's an ad and what's not. Brave's AdGraph approach instead uses artificial intelligence, trained on real-world websites, so it can spot ads and trackers even before a human has reported them.

Ad blocking is a major threat to internet services whose growth has largely been fueled by free services supported by ads. But online ads -- which can be annoying and intrusive, slow down computers and phones, and even deliver malware -- are in trouble.

About 615 million people use ad blockers on computers and mobile devices, according to PageFair, a company that seeks to help website publishers evade the blockers to reclaim revenue that otherwise would be lost. And Europe's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is making life harder for companies to harvest your personal data.

Brave AdGraph analyzes websites to try to identify what elements are ads or behavior trackers.

Brave AdGraph analyzes websites to try to identify what elements are ads or behavior trackers.

Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Brave, co-founded by former Mozilla leader Brendan Eich, blocks web ads and the behavior-tracking software that often accompany them. The company wants to restart the online ad industry with ads that are personalized but that don't leak your private data out of the browser itself. To make that approach effective, Brave must have an effective system for blocking conventional ads and ad trackers.

AdGraph isn't built into Brave, but the company has plans to do so, it said in a blog post Friday.

It works by examining how websites load, scrutinizing HTTP communications with web servers and the JavaScript and HTML instructions out of which websites are constructed. "Combining information across the different layers of the web stack allows us to capture telltale signs of ads and trackers," the paper said.

Brave isn't alone in the approach. Apple already uses some AI technology called intelligent tracking prevention to try to block ad trackers.

Eyeo, maker of the widely used AdBlock Plus extension, declined to comment for this story.

In addition to competing well with conventional ad-blocking technology, AdGraph better resists website publisher tweaks that easily throw ad blockers off the scent, the researchers said.

"Researchers have shown that randomization techniques, where publishers constantly mutate their web content, can easily defeat signatures used by ad blockers," the paper said. AdGraph isn't as easily fooled, though.

"AdGraph's resistance to those obfuscation attempts by publishers and advertisers represents an important technical advancement in the rapidly escalating ad blocking arms race," Brave said.

First published May 25, 4:11 p.m. PT.
Update, 5:31 p.m.:
Adds comment from AdBlock Plus developer Eyeo.

'Hello, humans': Google's Duplex could make Assistant the most lifelike AI yet.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.