Mystery startup from ex-Mozilla CEO aims to go where tech titans won't
Brendan Eich, who left the Firefox maker during a firestorm over his anti-gay-marriage views, says his new startup's software will make the Internet faster, safer and better in ways today's Net powers won't pursue.
Stephen Shanklandprincipal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes 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.
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A year and a half after resigning as Mozilla's chief executive following an uproar over his anti-gay-marriage stance, Eich is spinning up a new company called Brave Software. With nine employees and $2.5 million in early funding from angel investors, the San Francisco startup has begun work on software that promises to make the Internet safer and faster when the company publicly launches it in early 2016.
Though he parted ways with Firefox maker Mozilla, the Brave CEO is carrying some of the nonprofit's power-to-the-people ethos to his new for-profit venture. Eich won't share any details yet but said Brave's software will help give people independence from technology giants that often seem to care more about shareholders than users.
Companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft wield tremendous power over the technology we all use daily, from smartphones at the center of our lives to communications with our closest contacts. But anyone who doesn't agree with such companies' policies has little choice but to stick with them. That's because boycotting any of them means cutting oneself off from the mainstream. Brave evidently aims to shift the balance of power back toward the user through new software that will give people some type of ability to collectively push back.
"It's vitally important to put the user first," Eich said in an exclusive interview. "Since all the big powers are public companies, they have to serve their shareholders....
We're trying to innovate in dimensions that a lot of incumbents won't innovate,
where the user will have more control and maybe bargaining power."
Helping to co-found Brave are Brian Bondy, a programmer who worked on Firefox at Mozilla and more recently was an engineer at online education specialist Khan Academy, and Kevin Grandon, who worked on Firefox OS and the WebVR technology for virtual reality on the Web.
On Tuesday, Brave plans to announce two more employees. One is Yan Zhu, previously of the Yahoo security team, who worked on the SecureDrop software for helping whistleblowers share documents, helped develop the Tor software that lets people use the Net anonymously, and a fellow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Another is Marshall Rose, a programmer and longtime contributor to Internet standards who developed online payment technology and more recently worked on the Internet of Things technology to spread the Net to more types of devices.
Watch this: Firefox blocks ads from tracking you
His new company seeks to tap into the ideals behind Mozilla's founding. Mozilla was launched back in 1998 to keep the Internet's inner workings open so that powerful companies like Microsoft couldn't control it and lock people into their technology.
Firefox succeeded in that mission a decade ago, heading off the dominance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser. But that success was in large measure because Firefox was faster and had better features. Eich took that lesson to heart: He promises Brave will offer tangible benefits, not just something that appeals to a small group with philosophical motives.
Eich, who regrets that he didn't push into the ranks of management earlier in his career, said he still plans to program while raising funds and running Brave.
"I'm writing code, but I need to write more," he said. At Brave, it's "going
to be like [the movie] 'Starship Troopers': Everybody fights and no one quits."