Brave Software has embarked on the next phase of its plan to get you to use its browser -- and to build a privacy-first alternative to today's online ad industry.
The Brave browser blocks ads and ad trackers by default, a move that makes pages load faster and eliminates some prying into our lives online. But the startup doesn't want to rid the world of ads, only to come up with a system that delivers them with more privacy and security and fewer middlemen.
Brave already lets you contribute payments to publishers and, more recently, YouTube stars who sign up with Brave. Ultimately, it plans to build a system in which those payments are funded by some of the ads you see. Taking a step in that direction on Wednesday, it started issuing the digital equivalent of the money it hopes will power that system.
"We're giving people a warm welcome and putting some change in their pockets," said company Chief Executive Brendan Eich, who previously co-founded and led the Mozilla Firefox browser.
"If we do it right, it'll create a new ecosystem into which we transplant the viable parts of the current ecosystem -- the users, the publishers and content creators, and the brands who advertise," he said. "We're just reconnecting them."
Brave's new system relies on technology called cryptocurrency. The best-known example is Ethereum, as a foundation for its technology, called the basic attention token, or BAT. At the current exchange rate, each BAT is worth about 21 cents.in recent months. But Brave relies on a newer, more sophisticated alternative,
On May 31, Brave raised $36 million in 24 seconds by selling 1 billion BATs. Brave wants these tokens to be what gets exchanged in the online ad industry. An advertiser will give them to a publisher to show an ad, for example, or in the case of the Brave itself, to people using the browser who see an ad. So far about 1,100 publishers and YouTube stars have signed up for Brave's system, which lets them exchange BAT for dollars and other currencies through a partnership with online wallet company Uphold.
Ordinary Brave users can only spend BATs, not cash them out, but Brave hopes that'll become more useful in the future. For example, BATs could unlock news articles behind a paywall quickly and without requiring you to think about whether you really want to pay more than $100 for an annual subscription to paywalled publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New Yorker or, soon, Wired.
Cryptocurrencies are a new technology with something of a wild-west reputation still. Blockchain's meteoric rise inspires fears of a bubble bursting when speculation cools off. The US Securities and Exchange Commission just went to court to freeze assets of a cryptocurrency company called PlexCorps it alleges is a fraud. Bitcoin is used to, among other things, fund Nazi sympathizers who've been kicked off mainstream online sites.
But the underpinnings of cryptocurrency, a technology called blockchain, is no scam. Blockchain promises new levels of trust and transparency for many types of transactions, and companies like Microsoft and IBM are embracing it wholeheartedly.
Brave's attempt to address drawbacks of today's online ad technology -- problems like privacy invasion, website performance and the injection of dangerous "malvertising" into web pages -- relies on its BAT cryptocurrency. It sold 1.5 billion BATs in May, but it separately reserved 300 million for what's called a user growth pool. Wednesday's move distributes a tenth of a percent of them, but there will be other grants, Eich said.
Brave hopes the pool of tokens will attract new users to its browser and get existing users to set up BAT wallets within the browser, Eich said.
If you're using Brave and opt into the BAT system, the browser automatically divvies up BAT transfers each month depending on how much time you spend at each website. You can also "pin" specific recipients so they get a fixed percentage of your contribution.
Brave also hopes the BAT bonus will encourage YouTubers to sign up -- and publicize BAT and Brave. Brave by default blocks ads, so Brave users will be crimping advertising revenue distributed through YouTube's conventional payment mechanism.
Ultimately, Brave plans to build a broader BAT network that includes other software from other companies and, eventually, standardize it as part of the web.
Correction, Dec. 6 at 5:20 p.m.: Brave created 1.5 billion tokens, but only 1 billion of them were sold on May 31.
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