Law in the Internet Society

So, How "Brave" Are You?

-- By MotazArshied - 04 Dec 2019

A Confession – Forgive Me Father for I Have Sinned

After briefing through most of the first essays of my peers, I feel 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 of his points I felt how I will never be able to accomplish 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, we need to 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 Mozilla and Firefox browsers. Brave runs on the same engine as Google Chrome – Chromium, which makes the transition to it fairly easy, especially for a chrome addict like myself. However, it stripped Google’s-specific code out of it and produced a surfing experience which 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 paper, 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 respect, Brave offers two options: First, the regular incognito mode that we are all familiar with, however this 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 and privacy. With that being said, Brave itself notifies the 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: First, will Eich's latest browser only cannibalize its previous one (FireFox? )? Second, how does Brave's advertisement model mitigate the problem of targeted ads when "unbribable" users are concerned?

Initially, these questions are to be addressed by the fact that since its 1.0 launch on November 13th, 2019; Brave already has over 10 million users. However, I do not 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 Open Source Chromium engine.Thus, seriously tempting other browser users to switch to Brave easily, without adjusting much and therefore taking a piece of every existing other browser, not just FireFox? .

In respect to the second question, the built-in premise in 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 protects themselves from targeting ads. I believe that the decisiveness and belief of this population will never change. However, I also believe that Brave's BAT is not pretentious enough to proclaim itself as a perfect solution, 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, this idea holds the rope ion the middle, thus containing a lot more of fruitful potential than holding the rope at one of its ends.

After everything that we have been taught throughout this course, I felt that this technological expedition is an obligation of me to myself, as part of my own self-care. We live in a mad, MAD world nowadays and it is obvious that Brave’s initiative is not a cure to madness, but it is a concentrated, experimental dose against one of madness’s symptoms. 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. It is reasonable to believe that the majority of our “click here”, “like that” and “swipe this” society will accept the defeat with open mouths and empty, famished bellies. But I am not hungry nor in the mood to be accepted by this crooked society any further. 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.

This is a good summary of the current situation with Brave. I think you can make the draft stronger by asking two further questions:

  1. With Chrome---a browser made to make life easier for a privacy-invading advertising company pervasively collecting human behavior---holding 60% of the browser market, isn't Brave basically a competitor with Firefox for the roughly 13% of browser users who want a browser not made by an advertising company? Eich has spent his career on Firefox, and if (for rather comparatively narrow political reasons) his association with Mozilla is over, shouldn't we ask whether Brave can win over additional users, as Firefox once did, by better performance, lightweightness and simplicity, or is simply destined to cannibalize the Firefox share?
  2. How is preserving advertising, while offering less effectiveness to advertisers, a stable way of confronting the problem? People who don't want advertisements, because they do not believe in allowing the capturing of attention as well as behavior, will not decide in return for some small bribe to allow their attention to be captured as long as behavior collection is limited. Why will I ever allow any advertising on anything I read? Privoxy+AdBlock+ or one of its equivalents will continue to give me an ad-free web. On the other hand, advertisers will not buy low-quality access to consumers at a price comparable to the high-quality access offered by the behavior-collecting targeters. So why, at equilibrium, is there a slot for Brave to fit into?

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Webs Webs

r6 - 13 Jan 2020 - 19:53:00 - MotazArshied
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