Law in the Internet Society

So, How "Brave" Are You?

-- By MotazArshied - 04 Dec 2019

Revised Draft

A Confession – Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned

After briefing through most of the first essays of my peers, I felt a sense of companionship. Accordingly, I decided to start my second essay with a deeply personal frustration of mine: I feel that no matter how hard I will work in my life, I’ll never work as hard as my father did. In some sense, this feeling haunted me through this course and with every time professor Moglen punched-line one a point, I felt how I will never be able to achieve the freedom he describes. I imagined a level of dedication so enormous that my compromising, procrastinating and narrow shoulders cannot carry. So, I did what I do best: suppressing.

The Path to Braveness

A few weeks ago, I attended a guest lecture given by Ms. Tongtong Gong, a technology executive and COO of Amberdata Inc., a crypto-currency data and software company. At the Q&A part, my suppressing mechanism momentarily seized control and I asked Ms. Gong about the privacy risks that are relevant to crypto currency and her company’s services. As our conversation developed, she directed me to a blockchain-enabled project called Basic Attention Token (BAT).

However, before discussing BAT, I'll address the rather new browser it is connected to: Brave. Brave is a browser created by Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript? and co-founder of the Mozilla and Firefox browsers. Brave runs on the same engine as Google Chrome – Chromium, which eases the transition to its new users, especially previous chrome users. However, it stripped Google’s-specific code out of it and produced a surfing experience that keeps personal data from getting out, and outside data from getting in.

According to Eich, he created Brave in order to render us a “better internet”, with improved power, speed, security and privacy (by blocking trackers). On its face, Brave is a browser for the “free internet” advocates, with minimum tracking (thanks to Brave Shields that block trackers), with no collection of personal data (with the exception of safe browsing and prediction services, which can be disabled) and with an interesting extra-touch of BAT, as an incitement for a user to get the ads she/he actually desires while being paid for it in crypto currency.

BAT-Ads: Not the Hero We Deserve, But the Hero We Need

So far, Brave sounds like a great deal. But here’s its real perk: Brave acknowledge the reality of websites making revenue out of ads but unlike other browsers, Brave balances this reality with user privacy principles by offering its users to opt-in into Brave Rewards. In sum, Brave replaces ads on its website with ads of its own, calling them “privacy-respecting ads”. If you engage with these ads, their publisher will not earn revenue, but you will earn Brave’s BAT, a cryptocurrency which you later turn into real money. You could imagine Brave is not the advertiser’s favorite browser, but from our point of view as users, it seems to be the best browser we can use in the surveillance era we live in.

Good Enough Privacy?

Brave has introduced an interesting initiative against malicious browser ads and proposed a solution that some users can deem as “fair”. But what about privacy issues such as anonymity? In that matter, Brave offers two options: First, the regular incognito mode that we are all familiar with (that mode does not prevent our network administrator, the websites we visit and our ISP from access to our data). The second option is a private mode that uses TOR, which supposedly increases security layers and protects our data tightly. With that said, Brave itself notifies its users that for absolute anonymity, one should switch completely to a TOR browser.

What is the Right Price?

Given Chrome's dominance in the browser world, all of the above begs two challenging questions: Firstly, will Eich's latest browser cannibalize its previous one (FireFox? )? Secondly, how does Brave's advertisement model mitigate the problem of targeted ads when "unbribable" users are concerned?

Initially, these questions could be addressed by the fact that since its 1.0 launch on November 13th, 2019; Brave already has over 10 million users. However, it is hard to believe that the BAT offer (AKA, the "bribe") is the decisive factor in this phenomenon for Brave's performance is utterly satisfying, mostly thanks to its reliance on the Open Source Chromium engine; thus seriously tempting web-users to switch to Brave easily without exhausting adjustments and therefore having a bite of every existing other browser, not just FireFox? .

In regards to the second question, the built-in premise of it will forever shape a chunk of population that will not accept Brave's "bribe" and will keep using AdBlock? + and other similar tools to protect themselves from targeting ads. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which this protective behavior will change. However, I also believe that Brave's BAT is not pretentious enough to proclaim itself as a perfect solution or a good enough "bribe", but rather as a wind of change. It is true that one can take full control of the browser by using protective tools, but one can also balance the control of the browser by costuming the ads and circumstances in which the user is comfortable with being targeted. In a sci-fi analogy, Brave asks the man to make peace with the machine, under his own terms. Personally, I consider this idea as holding the rope in the middle, thus containing a lot more of fruitful futuristic potential towards a balanced solution rather than holding the rope vigorously at one of its ends.

After everything that we have been taught throughout this course, I felt that this technological expedition is an obligation to myself, as part of my own self-care. Now, more than ever, it is safe to say that privacy has lost its seat around the high priority values table of this world and naturally, the losers are us; the people. I am aware that switching browsers does not relief me from the slavery I opted-into for an entire decade now, but it is a step and I declare it counts. Turns out all it required was curiosity, attention and some self-investing. Hard work has various faces. The three factors above constituted one of them for me, one which I think will make dad proud.

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Webs Webs

r10 - 03 Feb 2020 - 14:28:32 - MotazArshied
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