It's time for browser startup Brave to see if this whole privacy-respecting ads business is really going to pay off.
The startup, co-founded by former Firefox leader and Mozilla Chief Executive Brendan Eich, got its start by releasing a browser in 2016 that blocks ads by default -- a design the company's studies say dramatically improves not just performance but also cuts memory usage and saves phone battery life.
But the plan was never just to remove ads -- it's also to replace the ones you usually see on websites with something that doesn't track you around the web. Brave started testing these privacy-respecting ads this year, and now the technology is active in the main version of Brave for personal computers. And if you opt in, you'll get a share of the resulting ad revenue.
"Ads have become spyware," Eich said, and ad tech is riddled with middlemen and fraud that are problems for both advertisers and the publishers who place ads. "We think we have a better technique."
Brave has convinced 5.9 million people to use its browser each month and should reach 10 million this summer, Eich said. That's a far cry, though, from the billion-plus who use 264 million who use Firefox. To fulfill its ambitions of "putting chlorine in the pool" -- building an improved ad system extending far beyond its own company -- Brave will need a lot more users to sign up.and the
Recent privacy scandals and data breaches may have changed your mind, though, and Brave has a carrot to coax you aboard.
Ad revenue for Brave users
With this first phase of Brave ads, you'll keep 70% of the revenue. A second phase, involving cooperation with website publishers, will give you 15 percent of each ad's revenue. It won't generate enough for you to get rich quick, but Eich hopes it'll be enough to help sustain free sites on the internet. The system will expand to Android and iOS phones in coming months.
Disclosure: I transferred some bitcoin into my Brave wallet for testing when Brave launched its payments system in 2016. That later was converted into BAT. After that initial purchase, Brave's grants, BAT from ads I've seen and BAT transferred to website publishers, I now have a BAT balance worth $26.59. I have received no bitcoin or BAT from Brave.
Conventional online ads can generate more revenue for publishers if they're targeted toward a specific audience. Nobody likes irrelevant ads. But that targeting can involve a privacy tradeoff, since advertisers want to know about what sites you've visited or what your social media profile says about your interests.
Brave Software wants to show targeted ads, too, but it lets the browser decide on the targeting without spilling your data over the network to publishers, advertisers or Brave itself. It gauges your interest chiefly by the content of websites you visit -- for example, news articles. But it also will include what can be a very strong signal that you want to buy something: searches for products or services.
Small text-based search ads are how Google got its start making immense piles of money. Brave ads right now are similarly terse, but instead of being built into the website, they appear as operating system notifications.
And unlike with search ads, you get 70 percent of the Brave ad revenue.
You won't get rich off Brave ads
So how much could you earn in Brave's monthly payout plan?
"I'm still a bit of a bear, so I say $5, but it could be $10 or more," Eich said. Just seeing an ad generates a little money, but clicking generates more, and doing something very valuable to an advertiser, like booking an appointment to test-drive a car, could be worth something more like $50, he said.
One catch: You get paid in Brave's crypto-tokens, called basic attention tokens (BAT), not real money. Another catch: for now, the money goes into the browser, but the only way to get it out is to use the Brave Rewards system to contribute that BAT to websites, YouTubers and Twitch videogame streamers you visit who've signed up for the Brave system. Later, Brave will let you export your tokens so you can convert them to regular money.
"We don't currently have a way to get tokens out," Eich said. "We will add that as soon as we can," using partnerships with cryptocurrency exchanges like Coinbase and Uphold and requiring a fraud-thwarting process that means users must identify themselves, he said.
Brave advertisers include Vice, Home Chef, ConsenSys, Ternio BlockCard, MyCrypto, and eToro, BuySellAds, TAP Network, AirSwap, Fluidity, andhttps://uphold.com/Uphold, Brave said. The browser periodically retrieves a catalog of ads from such advertisers and shows its best guess about the one it calculates will be most interesting to you. Advertisers know only that their ads were seen, not who saw them. Brave is designed to show them during moments when you won't be as bothered by the interruption.
Publisher ads, set to arrive later this year, will place Brave ads directly onto publishers' websites. There, publishers will keep 70%, while you and Brave will evenly split the remaining 30%.
Brave also could sign a larger-scale search-ad deals with search engines to boost revenue further, Eich said. "We have a model that gets us to profitability."
First published April 24, 9 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:39 p.m. PT: Adds a disclosure about the $26.59 value of the author's BAT holdings.