Turning inner space into outer space

April 9, 2016

O Brave new world that has no ads in't!

Brave logo
The icon for Brave

The controversy over ad blocking flared up when Apple made it possible for iPhone users to download apps that delete advertising from websites. There was a surge in interest, but it levelled off and publishers breathed a sigh of relief.

But now along comes Brendan Eich with a plan to not only block ads but replace them. He claims this will help publishers, but they aren’t buying it.

Eich was previously best known as the inventor of JavaScript, a programming language that brings interactive elements to websites. He was also the co-founder of Mozilla, a non-profit group that develops the Firefox browser as an open source project.

His latest project is a new web browser called Brave. He would like to convince you to use Brave instead of Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari or even Firefox. And why would you do this? The promise is super-fast browsing because all ads and trackers are blocked be default.

Of course, there are already extensions and plug-ins that do this, but the plan is for Brave to go a step further and replace those ads with ads of its own. Somehow these will be better ads — less intrusive and less of a drag on page loads.

Publishers are upset. The way they see it, advertisers paid for that spot on their site, and they don’t want it taken over by someone else. The Newspaper Association of America, which includes some papers in Canada, has declared it “blatantly illegal.”

Our sites and mobile applications provide news reporting, photojournalism, video content and feature writing that is researched, reported, edited and produced an extraordinary cost. Our industry spends more than $5 billion per year on reporting in the United States alone. We distribute that reporting online for free or at highly subsidized rates, in no small part due to revenue from online ads.

I agree with the blatant part, but I’m not so sure about illegal. Replacing someone else’s ads with your own is an audacious move. Still, Eich has an answer.

His first assertion is to point out that not all ads are replaced: “We do not tamper with any first-party publisher content, including native ads that do not use third-party tracking.”

In sum, and contrary to the misstatements of the NAA letter, Brave is the solution, not the problem, for users and publishers. We provide speed, privacy, protection from malware, and a new, anonymous payment model that helps the whole industry and publishers in particular, compared to the status quo.

Basically, he’s saying that browsers and other software have long been able to take bits and pieces of web content and rearrange them the way we like. A good example is RSS feed readers. They pull in content from all over the web, allowing you to read content without even visiting the website it comes from.

It’s hard to decide which side to take in this battle. Brave is promising publishers 55 per cent of the revenue from ad replacement. Given their strong opposition, publishers obviously don’t see that as a good deal for them.

This whole thing would have worked out much better if Brave had negotiated an agreement with publishers before going public. If publishers were on-side, they would actually be encouraging people to use Brave.

As it stands, this could turn out to be a tempest in a teapot if few people actually download Brave and use it. Google successfully used Chrome to push aside Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to become the most widely used browser. Safari is popular on mobile, thanks to being the default on iPhones. And Firefox still has many fans with its emphasis on privacy.

It’s hard to imagine Brave making much a dent in that kind of competition without the support of those it claims to help.